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.
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.
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.
Funding for Research and Enforcement
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.
Implementation Without Weakening or Delays
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.