What Needs to be Done

Many major challenges require the Administration and Congress to take steps to protect the health of the public. Here are a few that the American Lung Association calls for to improve the air we all breathe.

  • Protect the Clean Air Act. The strong, continued improvement shown in the State of the Air report is possible because of the Clean Air Act, the nation’s strong public health law that the U.S. Congress passed 40 years ago.  The Act requires that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and each state take steps to clean up the air. Some members of Congress are proposing changes to the Clean Air Act that could dismantle 40 years’ progress. We must keep that law strong to continue to protect public health.
  • Clean up dirty power plants. Over 440 coal-fired power plants in over 40 states are among the largest contributors to particulate pollution, ozone, mercury, and global warming. Their pollution blows across state lines into states thousands of miles away. They produce 84 known hazardous air pollutants, including arsenic, mercury, dioxins, formaldehyde and hydrogen chloride. EPA has taken steps that will cut the emissions that create ozone and particle pollution and, for the first time, set national limits on the toxic pollutants they can emit. Congress needs to support EPA’s actions to clean these plants up.
  • Clean up the existing fleet of dirty diesel vehicles and heavy equipment. Rules EPA put in effect over the past several years mean that new diesel vehicles and equipment must be much cleaner. Still, the vast majority of diesel trucks, buses, and heavy equipment (such as bulldozers) will likely be in use for thousands more miles, spewing dangerous diesel exhaust into communities and neighborhoods. The good news is that affordable technology exists to cut emissions by 90 percent. Congress needs to fund EPA’s diesel cleanup (“retrofit”) program. Congress should also require that clean diesel equipment should be used in federally-funded construction programs.
  • Strengthen the ozone standards. The Lung Association urges the EPA to adopt a much tighter, more protective national air quality standard for ozone. The standard adopted in March 2008 is not strong enough to protect health against the widespread harm from ozone smog. The 2008 decision set 75 ppb as the standard, despite the unanimous recommendations of EPA’s official science advisors that such a level would allow too much ozone to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act. The American Lung Association challenged the 2008 decision in court, along with several states, public health and environmental groups.
  • Strengthen the particle pollution standards. In 2006, EPA failed to strengthen the annual standard for fine particles, despite the near unanimous recommendation by their official science advisors. EPA lowered the 24-hour standard, though not to the level the Lung Association recommended. EPA can save thousands of lives each year by dramatically strengthening the annual average and the 24-hour standards. In 2009, the Lung Association challenged that 2006 standard in the U.S. Circuit Court and won. In 2011, the Lung Association sued EPA for their failure to issue a new, more protective standard.
  • Clean up harmful emissions from tailpipes. EPA needs to set new pollution standards for cars, light trucks, SUVs and gasoline fuels to reduce nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and particle pollution emissions. Science shows that people who live or work near highways or busy roads bear a disproportionate health burden from air pollution. Cleaner cars will help reduce this impact for all, but especially those who live closest to the traffic.

FACT: Some of the biggest sources of air pollution are dirty power plants, old diesel vehicles and heavy equipment, and ocean-going vessels.

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SOTA 2011 Survey