What Needs to Be Done

Our nation has made significant progress, but clearly more must be done to reduce the burden of air pollution and improve the health of millions of Americans. Cleaning up air pollution requires strong and coordinated effort on the part of our federal and state leaders. President Obama, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Members of Congress, Governors and state leaders all have a key role to play. These leaders have a choice to make: either support steps to improve the air we breathe so that it does not cause or worsen lung disease, or allow pressure from polluting industries to weaken healthy air protections. The American Lung Association urges our nation’s leaders to stand up for public health and take these important steps for to improve the air we all breathe.

Speak Up and Step Up

Check out ways you can make a difference.

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 put in place by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress more than 40 years ago. The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA and each state take steps to clean up the air and protect public health by reducing pollution. Unfortunately, some in Congress continue to seek weakening changes to the Clean Air Act that would dismantle progress made in the last 40 years and make it harder to achieve future reductions. To achieve the promise of the Clean Air Act, Congress must keep the law strong, fully implemented and enforced.

Reduce Carbon Pollution from Power Plants by Adopting a Strong Final Clean Power Plan

In 2014, EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan as a way to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 2030, working with states. Now President Obama and EPA need to finish the job and issue strong final standards for carbon pollution from new and existing plants as soon as possible. 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.1 Scientists tell us that carbon pollution contributes to a warming climate, enhancing conditions for ozone formation, and making it harder to reduce this lethal pollutant. Taking steps to reduce carbon pollution from electricity generation will also reduce ozone and particle pollution. EPA’s own analysis shows that these co-benefits can prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children in 2030.

Revise the Ozone Air Quality Standard to Reflect the Science and Protect Health

National air quality standards set the official limits that drive the cleanup of air pollution around the nation. The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA set national air quality standards for ozone based on the need to protect public health, “with an adequate margin of safety.” The Clean Air Act also requires that the EPA review the standards every five years to make sure that the standards are based on the most current science. Today, the research shows that the current standard is woefully inadequate to protect public health, and a much stronger standard is needed. Multiple reviews by the independent scientists who advise the EPA have confirmed that the current standard fails to provide the protection required under the law.2

The good news is that the EPA proposed to strengthen the health-based standard in November 2014, with the EPA Administrator recommending a standard between 65 and 70 parts per billion (ppb) from the current standard of 75 ppb. EPA is also seeking input on an even more protective standard of 60ppb.

The American Lung Association and the leading medical and public health organizations strongly support the most protective standard under consideration, 60 ppb. A standard set at the most protective level (60ppb) would prevent 7,900 premature deaths and 1.8 million asthma attacks in children, and 1.9 million school days missed in 2025, for all counties in the U.S. expected to meet the standard that year.3 That estimate does not include California, which is not expected to meet that standard until after 2025.

Under a court order, the EPA must adopt a standard by October 1, 2015. The Lung Association will continue to urge the EPA to set the most protective standard.

Set Strong Limits on Air Pollution that Blows Across State Lines

Air pollution, including ozone and particle pollution, can be transported by the wind hundreds of miles away from its source, placing a significant health burden on communities and states that have no ability to limit pollution from neighboring states. The EPA, working with the states, must move rapidly to reduce transported ozone and particle pollution to protect downwind communities, who otherwise have limited ability to intervene or protect themselves. The American Lung Association urges EPA to strengthen the limits on transported ozone and particle pollution to help downwind states protect their citizens from pollution blown hundreds of miles across the nation.

Clean Up Harmful Emissions from Dirty Diesel Vehicles and Heavy Equipment

Rules the 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 the EPA's diesel cleanup ("retrofit") program. Congress should also require that clean diesel equipment be used in federally-funded construction programs.

Improve the Air Pollution Monitoring Network

The grades in this report come from information from the nationwide air pollution monitoring network. That network forms the infrastructure for air pollution. States and local governments use monitors to accurately measure the amount of air pollution in the community.

Less than one-third of all counties have ozone or particle pollution monitors, seriously limiting the ability to adequately detect and track the levels of harmful air pollution. Unfortunately, funds for existing air pollution monitors have been cut across the nation. More monitoring is needed near roadways to measure the highest levels of exposures from air pollution related to traffic. These resources may be cut further unless Congress and the White House resolve to protect the health of the nation from air pollution.

What you can do

You can do a great deal to help reduce air pollution outdoors by speaking up and stepping up. Here's how.

1. Speak up for Healthy Air Protections.

Tell the White House we need strong standards for carbon pollution from all power plants and truly protective standards for ozone.

Send a message to Congress. Urge them to support cleaner, healthier air and oppose measures to block or delay the cleanup of air pollution. They should support and protect the Clean Air Act.

Share your story. Do you or any member of your family have a personal reason to want healthier, cleaner air? Go to Fightingforair.org to let us know how healthy air affects you. Your story helps us remind decision-makers what is at stake when it comes to clean air.

Get involved. Participate in your community's review of its air pollution plans and support state and local efforts to clean up air pollution. To find your local air pollution control agency, go to 4cleanair.org.

2. Step up to curb pollution at home.

Drive less. Combine trips, walk, bike, carpool or vanpool, and use buses, subways or other alternatives to driving. Vehicle emissions are a major source of air pollution. Support community plans that provide ways to get around that don’t require a car, such as more sidewalks, bike trails and transit systems.

Use less electricity. Turn out the lights and use energy-efficient appliances. Generating electricity is one of the biggest sources of pollution, particularly in the eastern United States.

Don't burn wood or trash. Burning firewood and trash are among the largest sources of particles in many parts of the country. If you must use a fireplace or stove for heat, convert your woodstoves to natural gas, which has far fewer polluting emissions. Compost and recycle as much as possible and dispose of other waste properly; don't burn it. Support efforts in your community to ban outdoor burning of construction and yard wastes. Avoid the use of outdoor hydronic heaters, also called outdoor wood boilers, which are frequently much more polluting than woodstoves.

Make sure your local school system requires clean school buses, which includes replacing or retrofitting old school buses with filters and other equipment to reduce emissions. Make sure your local schools don't idle their buses, a step that can immediately reduce emissions.

  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2009. Washington, DC: U.S. EPA, 2011. EPA 430-R-11-005.
  2. Henderson, Dr. Rogene, Chair, Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee letter to Stephen L. Johnson, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, re Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee Recommendations Concerning the Final Rule for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, EPA –CASAC 08-009, April 7, 2008; Samet, Dr. Jonathan M., Chair, Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee letter to The Honorable Lisa P. Jackson. Review of EPA’s proposed Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard (Federal Register, Vol. 75, No. 11, January 19, 2010), EPA-CASAC-10-007, February 19, 2010; Frey, Dr. H. Christopher, Chair, Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, letter to Gina McCarthy, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, re Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee Recommendations Concerning the Second Draft Policy Assessment for the Review of the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards, June 14, 2014.
  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Regulatory Impact Analysis of the Proposed Revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Ground-level Ozone. Research Triangle Park, NC; U.S. EPA, 2014. EPA 452-R-14-006.
Did You Know?

Did You Know?Six cities had their worst spikes in dangerous particle pollution in 2011-2013.

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