About Clean Air

A Healthy Air Agenda: Critical Steps to Protecting the Air We Breathe


Polluted air is a pervasive threat in America, harming our health and shortening lives. More than 159 million Americans live in areas where the level of air pollution threatens their health. Some of those who are most vulnerable are our children, our seniors, our family members with lung disease, heart disease and diabetes, people with low incomes, and those who work and exercise outdoors.

Despite repeated interference from Big Polluters and some members of Congress, we have made progress in the United States on improving our air – but there is still more life-saving work to be done to protect the Clean Air Act and the health of millions of people across the country.

The American Lung Association’s “Healthy Air Agenda” describes the critical next steps the Obama Administration and 113th Congress must take to implement the Clean Air Act and defend the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to ensure all Americans can have air that is safe and healthy to breathe. These include:

  • Smokestacks – Clean up coal-fired power plants

    Power plants, in particular those fired by coal, are a major source of hazardous pollutants. Many of these pollutants, such as mercury, benzene, dioxins, arsenic, and lead, can cause cancer and cardiovascular disease; harm the kidneys, lungs, and nervous system; and even kill. Power plants are also the biggest source of carbon pollution that is linked to climate change.

  • Tailpipes – Clean up gasoline and vehicles

    Toxic emissions from cars and light trucks are a major source of dangerous air pollution. The EPA needs to update standards to control smog-forming and particle pollution from passenger vehicles by reducing the amount of sulfur in gasoline and setting tighter tailpipe pollution limits on new vehicles.

  • Funding Research & Enforcement

    The EPA along with state and local air pollution agencies form the essential national infrastructure that monitors and cleans our air and protects the health of our communities. However, ever-tightening budgets jeopardize their work. Preventing additional cuts will enable them to effectively monitor air quality, implement critical air quality programs to protect public health, and meet national clean air goals.

  • Implementation without weakening or delays

    For the past two years, Big Polluters have pushed some members of Congress to roll back, weaken, delay, and block critically important, science-based updates to clean air protections. To truly improve the health of millions of people across the nation and save thousands of lives every year, full implementation of all Clean Air Act updates, rules, and standards is needed – without threats to these life-saving protections.


Read Dan’s Story

More than 500 existing coal-fired power plants spew carbon pollution, soot and smog (ozone)-forming pollutants, and other toxic pollutants—including mercury, benzene, dioxins, arsenic, and lead—into our air on a daily basis. These smokestack emissions impact those who live near power plants as well as many who live downwind. Fortunately, over the past two years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted strong measures to clean up those emissions, actions polluters have sought to block.

Additionally, in 2009, the EPA made the landmark finding that concentrations of greenhouse gases, including carbon pollution, are currently endangering public health and will continue to in the future as rising temperatures increase the risk of ozone (smog) pollution. According to the EPA, power plants are the largest stationary source of greenhouse gases in the United States. Energy production accounts for 86 percent of total 2009 greenhouse gas emissions, and the electric sector represents 39 percent of all energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. If power plant pollution is left unchecked, our nation’s most vulnerable communities will be put at greater risk because of changes in air pollution levels as a result. People like Dan understand all too well the critical importance of cleaning up smokestack emissions from power plants.

What We Want in 2013

  • The EPA must adopt the first-ever standards for carbon pollution from new power plants (a step they proposed in April 2012).
  • The EPA must also set carbon pollution standards for existing power plants.
  • The EPA and states must begin implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants adopted in 2011 and continue to reduce mercury and air toxics from other industrial sources.
  • The EPA needs to put forward workable safeguards to address interstate air pollution. The issue of “secondhand-smog” needs to be resolved once and for all.

Mid-Year Update

  • The EPA has not finalized standards for carbon pollution from new power plants, more than a year after proposing them in April 2012. President Obama has instructed EPA to re-propose new standards in September 2013. Final standards will not be set until 2014 at earliest.
  • A carbon pollution standard for existing plants has yet to be proposed, but President Obama has instructed EPA to work with the states and to propose a standard by June 2014.
  • The Supreme Court has accepted a petition from the EPA, health and environmental groups and several states and will review the lower court’s decision to overturn standards pertaining to “secondhand-smog.” The Supreme Court may not issue its decision until 2014.
  • In April, the EPA adopted new rules to reduce mercury and air toxics from new power plants, resolving an issue raised in legal challenges to the 2011 rule. The EPA is proceeding with implementation of the cleanup of existing plants while defending that 2011 rule in court.

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Read Rachael’s Story

Cars, light trucks, and SUVs remain a major source of dangerous air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds. As many as 159 million Americans still live in areas where the air is too dangerous to breathe, and emerging research indicates that those who live and work near major roadways suffer disproportionate adverse health effects from air pollution. According to the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, reducing sulfur in gasoline and setting stricter limits on tailpipe emissions for new cars and trucks could prevent more than 400 premature deaths, tens of thousands of asthma attacks, and approximately 52,000 sick days each year. The pollution reduction from new, cleaner gasoline would be like taking 33 million cars off the road. Families like Rachael’s, who live near major roadways, face the greatest health threats.

What We Want in 2013

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should adopt the Cleaner Gasoline and Vehicle Standards to reduce pollution from vehicles. The new standards will clean up cars, trucks and SUVs by reducing the sulfur in gasoline from today’s level of 30 parts per million down to 10 parts per million, and setting stronger tailpipe pollution limits for new cars and light trucks. Since emissions control technology operates more efficiently with low sulfur gasoline, these standards will clean up all existing vehicles. Adopting cleaner gasoline and vehicle standards in 2013 will also help automakers effectively integrate emissions control technologies with changes being made to meet landmark 2017-2025 fuel efficiency standards.

Mid-Year Update

  • Despite pressure from Big Oil for further delays, the EPA finally proposed the Cleaner Gasoline and Vehicle Standards on March 29, 2013. EPA received over 350,000 public comments from a diverse group of medical professionals, public health, consumer, labor, states, environmental and industry supporters and is on track to issue final standards by December 31, 2013.

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Funding for Research and Enforcement

American Lung Association Due to Buget Cuts Break Glass Cartoon

The Clean Air Act protects health and saves lives, but only if it is enforced. In 2010 alone, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution that were the result of 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than 160,000 premature deaths; 130,000 heart attacks; 13 million lost work days; and 1.7 million asthma attacks. The public needs and deserves to know whether the air is safe to breathe and needs a fair “cop on the beat” to ensure that polluters arenrsquo;t failing to clean up as the law requires. It is also essential that scientific research continue at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure standards are updated to be fully protective. Budget cuts to the EPA or to state and local enforcement programs will dramatically decrease the protections that kids like 13-year-old Jake from Maine rely upon.

What We Want in 2013

  • The 113th Congress needs to provide adequate funding to the EPA to enforce the Clean Air Act. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), if the “Sequester” of the Budget Control Act of 2011 is not turned off, close to $700 million could be cut from the FY2013 budget levels at the EPA.
  • The 113th Congress needs to provide adequate funding for state air monitoring programs. The Clean Air Act authorizes the federal government to provide grants to the states for up to 60 percent of the costs of running local monitoring programs, but for the last decade the federal grant amounts have fallen to as little as 25 percent of the total cost of state air pollution programs.

Mid-Year Update

  • Congress failed to amend the law to avoid the Sequester. Federal agencies including the EPA, are furloughing workers and taking other measures to operate with $700 million in budget cuts. While EPA has managed the furloughs by spacing when critical staff are off, the agency will have to take additional measures that could weaken the agency’s effectiveness.
  • Although the President proposed overall cuts to EPA’s budget for the next fiscal year, his budget calls for more funding for grants to the state clean air programs beginning in FY 2014. This may mean enhanced air pollution monitoring and reporting activities by states, if enacted by Congress.

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Implementation Without Weakening or Delays

Read Lydia’s Story

For the past two years, some in Congress have attempted to roll back, weaken, delay, and block critically important, science-based updates to clean air protections. These efforts included attempts to permanently block Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that would limit toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants and protect us from air pollution that blows in from other states.

At the urging of Big Oil, members of Congress have also tried to strip away EPA’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Such actions would not only endanger our health today, but also threaten future generations by increasing temperatures that significantly contribute to the formation of lethal ozone (smog) pollution. Other attacks in Congress have focused on undermining the very core of the Clean Air Act by injecting costs associated with pollution reduction into the scientific process of diagnosing air pollution’s impact on our health. There are some in Congress who have put the interests of polluters before real people like Lydia, a mom from California.

What We Want in 2013

  • The EPA needs to adopt a strong ozone national air quality standard, which will help drive cleanup of smog across the nation.
  • The EPA must fully implement the Clean Air Act without Congressional attempts to weaken, delay, roll back, or block these life-saving protections.
  • The 113th Congress must not interfere with or impede the EPA from fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act: clean and healthy air to breathe.

Mid-Year Update

  • The EPA issued a comprehensive assessment of the scientific research of the harm from ozone in February, showing growing evidence of the need to strengthen the standards. This assessment is part of the on-going review of the ozone health national air quality standards to determine whether the standards adequately protect human health. EPA has indicated that it will need more time to prepare two key analyses for the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee to review before they can decide what the standard should be. Therefore, a recommendation is not expected until 2014.
  • On June 19, 2013, the American Lung Association and a coalition of environmental groups filed legal action asking the federal court to set a deadline for the Obama Administration to complete the review of these overdue standards for ozone (or “smog”) pollution. This review should have been completed in March 2013.
  • Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stepped down from her position in February 2013. Congress’ delay in confirming a replacement is impacting important EPA actions.
  • Congress has attempted to interfere with critically important Clean Air Act standards that protect public health. In March, the U.S. Senate rejected amendments to budget bills that would have blocked EPA from setting standards for carbon pollution, and creating loopholes for companies to avoid compliance with the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants. There are several pending measures in the U.S. House of Representatives that would impede EPA’s ability to update clean air protections.
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