Air quality report finds reduced pollution helps economy

The American Lung Association has released its annual air quality report for 2016, which most significantly tracks ozone and air particle pollution, giving updated results for the years 2012 through 2014, in all 50 states.

Overall, air pollution has continued to decrease since 1970, due largely to the Clean Air Act. Specifically, in the last four and a half decades, the cumulative emissions of carbon monoxide, ozone, lead, nitrogen dioxide, dust and soot, and sulfur dioxide has dropped by 69 percent.

Despite the argument often espoused that tougher pollution laws hurt the economy, EPA studies conducted in 1997 and 2011 show that cleaner air has actually decreased healthcare costs and made Americans more productive through reduced rates of respiratory diseases and other ailments which could be attributed to air contaminants.

The 1997 study reported that between 1970 and 1990, the U.S. economy has benefited from the effects of cleaner air by an estimated $5.6 trillion to $49.4 trillion.

The 2011 report said that amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 helped save 13 million work days and over 164,000 deaths primarily due to reductions in sulfur — a byproduct of coal power plants.

These findings have been challenged by the energy industry, particularly coal lobbying groups such as America’s Power, which claims that more regulations limiting the use of the black mineral, such as the Clean Power Plan, will significantly increase electricity costs and decrease U.S. GDP by $39 billion per year.

The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2016” report shows, however, that GDP has increased by 238 percent since 1970, while CO² emissions have leveled off.


Environmentalists also point to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a collaborative effort of nine northeastern states started in 2009 to reduce carbon emissions. The program has prevented an estimated 24 percent increase in the air toxin, while the combined GDP of participating states has grown by approximately eight percent.

“I’ve doing this over 25 years,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association. “I’ve heard this from industry every single time EPA has tried to tighten a standard.”

Not all of the Association’s findings were positive however. According to the report, 166 million Americans live in areas with “unhealthful levels” of ozone or dust particle pollution.

California suffers from the worst air quality by far, as Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno, Visalia and Modesto are all in the top-10 in both ozone and long-term particle pollution.


[Bloomberg] [American Lung Association]