Last Wednesday, the American Lung Association released its 2013 “State of the Air” report – an annual highlight of cities and regions around the country with unhealthy levels of smog and soot which lead to increased asthma attacks, heart attacks and even premature death. What a difference a few years – and stronger pollution standards – make. For the first time in years, Southern cities did not break into the top ten lists for Most Polluted Cities for either ozone (sometimes called smog), year-round particle (sometimes called soot) or short-term particle pollution, whereas just two years ago, Charlotte, NC captured a spot in the top ten for ozone pollution. This report and other studies confirm that stronger pollution standards are to thank for the continued reductions in ozone and particle pollution we have observed over the past few decades.
While its worth celebrating that none of our region’s cities were on any top ten Most Polluted list this year, it’s important for citizens and policy makers to understand that over 131.8 million people — 42 percent of our country — still live, work and play where pollution levels can be too dangerous to breathe. When almost half the nation is breathing air with unsafe levels of pollution, it’s hard to believe there are ongoing attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, the cornerstone public health law that has driven cuts in air pollution since 1970. More incredible still is the fact that opponents are pushing to weaken air pollution standards in the face of overwhelming public support for these life-saving and health-protecting policies.
As we kick off Air Quality Awareness Week, there is good news for all of us no matter where we live or the state of our air quality. President Obama has nominated public-health champion Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. In her decades-long career, including her most recent four year stint as the Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR), McCarthy has proven she can work with industry, public health advocates and a wide variety of stakeholders to develop pragmatic and cost-effective safeguards to protect public health and reduce dangerous air pollution.
Once confirmed by the Senate, McCarthy will be well-positioned to lead EPA in implementing the Cleaner Gasoline and Vehicle Standards (also known as Tier 3), finalizing industrial carbon pollution limits for new power plants before moving on to limiting deadly pollution from existing power plants.
Reports like the 2013 State of The Air show us that 40+ years of the Clean Air Act has improved air quality and public health for most Americans, but that the every day health of children and communities is still at risk. We need strong pollution standards to continue improving air quality and we need strong leaders to implement and enforce those standards. Please urge your Senators to confirm McCarthy’s nomination so the EPA can move forward to limit dangerous industrial carbon pollution, protect public health and fight the causes of climate change.
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