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 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 progress made in the last 40 years. We must keep that law strong to continue to protect public health.

Clean up dirty power plants

Over 400 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 hundreds of miles away. They produce 84 known hazardous air pollutants, including arsenic, mercury, dioxins, formaldehyde and hydrogen chloride, as shown in the Lung Association report Toxic Air: The Case for Cleaning Up Coal-fired Power Plants. In 2011, EPA issued the final rules 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. However, some have challenged these standards in the courts. The Lung Association has taken legal steps to defend EPA’s efforts. Congress needs to support EPA’s actions to clean these plants up.

Clean up industrial, commercial and institutional boilers and incinerators

Boilers provide power and fuel processes for industry, commercial facilities and institutions. Similar to power plants, but smaller, boilers are also more numerous: there are 1.5 million of them. Many produce toxic air emissions, including the same toxic emissions that power plants produce. EPA needs to adopt strong final standards to limit emissions from these boilers.

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 be used in federally-funded construction programs.

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 tightened the 24-hour standard, though not to the level the Lung Association and other public health groups recommended. Last year, the Lung Association and its partners issued Sick of Soot a report that showed that EPA can save thousands of lives each year by dramatically strengthening the annual average and the 24-hour standards. However, EPA ignored its own deadlines to complete the review, failing to complete steps essential to protecting public health. The Lung Association filed legal action against EPA to require them to follow the law.

Clean up harmful emissions from tailpipes

EPA needs to set new pollution standards for cars, light trucks, SUVs and reduced sulfur in gasoline 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 gasoline will reduce pollution from every car on the road. Cleaner cars will help reduce this impact for all, but especially those who live closest to the traffic.

FACT: The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 report shows continued strong progress in improved air quality, but unhealthy levels of air pollution still exist across the nation.

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