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2017 “STATE OF THE AIR” report shows why we still need the Clean Air Act

By Diane Maceachern
Moms Clean Air Force

The Clean Air Act is coming under attack for being unnecessary and too costly to enforce. But the ‘State of the Air 2017’ report from the American Lung Association (ALA), shows that millions of people are still getting sick from breathing dirty air. “While most of the nation has much cleaner air quality than even a decade ago,” says the report’s authors, people living in many cities face “an unrelenting increase in dangerous spikes in particle pollution.”

In fact, more than four in 10 Americans live in places where the air is unhealthy to breathe – making a strong case not only for maintaining the Clean Air Act, but strengthening it.

Why We Need the Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 to protect the public from hazardous air pollutants, like the easy-to-inhale toxic particles emitted when utilities burn coal, or when cars burn gasoline.

Reducing air pollution is good for everyone, of course. But it’s especially important for kids with asthma, for anyone suffering from respiratory illnesses, and for people with heart problems. Research shows that almost 300,000 women die each year from heart disease, an ailment that is made substantially worse when we breathe dirty air.

Most cities have experienced strong reductions in air pollution since the Clean Air Act was passed. The number of people exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution dropped from 166 million in 2012-2014, to 125 million today, and many cities report fewer “code red” or “code orange” days. We can thank cleaner power plants and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks for these gains.

The Clean Air Act helps reduce climate change, too. Power plants are the largest stationary source of carbon pollution in the U.S. In fact, power plants that burn coal contribute around 30 percent of all energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in America. Because the Clean Air Act requires utilities to operate more cleanly, it helps reduce the amount of CO2 coal-fired plants generate, as well.

Dirty Air Remains, and Threatens

Looking at the nation as a whole, the ‘State of the Air 2017’ report shows that, “even with ongoing improvement, too many people in the U.S. live where the air is unhealthy for them to breathe.” That includes:

  • People both older and younger – Nearly 16.7 million adults age 65 and over and more than 29.5 million children under 18 years old live in counties that received an F for at least one of the most common pollutants that contaminate our air.
  • Asthma sufferers – Nearly 2.5 million children and nearly 8.3 million adults who suffer from asthma also live in counties that received an F for at least one toxic pollutant.
  • People with COPD, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, and diabetes – Millions of people suffering from these diseases live in counties that are marked by unacceptable levels of air pollution.

Climate change remains a dire threat, too. Data from NASA and NOAA indicate that 2016 was the warmest year on record globally, evidencing a long-term warming trend that is causing extreme weather events, droughts, fires, and rising sea levels that threaten the entire coastline of the U.S.

What Can We Do?

  • Protect and Enforce the Clean Air Act – First and foremost, it’s critical to enforce the Clean Air Act. Send a message to your Representative and Senators in Congress urging them to strengthen the Act and support adequate funds for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement and enforce it. EPA helps states make sure air pollution gets cleaned up, but they can’t do that unless the agency is adequately funded and retains the mandate to do its job.
  • Elect Environmental Advocates and Scientists to Congress – We need Senators and Representatives who value the Clean Air Act and will stick up for it against efforts to weaken its enforcement or even repeal it. A new organization called 314 Action is helping to recruit and train scientists to run for political office. The League of Conservation Voters helps elect pro-environment candidates to Congress and state office.
  • Do Your Part to Use Energy More Efficiently – We can all do more to use less energy and use it more efficiently. Here are some tips for creating your own Clean Power Plan at home.
  • Find Out How Clean Your City’s Air Is – You can get a report card for your state’s air quality from ALA here. See how the air in your city, county and state compare to others here.
  • Join Moms Clean Air Force – If you’re not yet a member, please join us. We’re a force of 1 million moms and dads strong who are fighting for our children’s right to breathe clean air!


And don’t miss this photo montage of what life in the U.S. was like before the Clean Air Act was passed.
Photo Credit: Latino youth hiking into the Great Sand Dunes. Photo by Rod Torrez & Hispanic Access Foundation

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