Today, the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Life:Powered project published the paper U.S. Cities Had Clean Air Before COVID-19: Reducing Emissions Will Barely Move the Needle “With a 40% decline in passenger vehicle travel during March and April 2020, the media was quick to draw connections between declines in activity and drops in pollution levels in many U.S. cities,” said Brent Bennett, Ph.D., policy director for Life:Powered. “However, the preliminary data from the EPA shows pollution levels varying dramatically from day to day and city to city, with weather and natural factors appearing to have a much larger impact than human activity.

“What most people don’t realize is how much safer and cleaner the air is in U.S. cities compared to the vast majority of the world and how much air quality in the U.S. has improved over the past several decades, even as our economy, population, energy consumption, and vehicle use have increased dramatically.”  

Key Points:  

  • The decline in vehicle travel during March and April 2020 of over 40% nationwide provided an unintended experiment on the effects of vehicle emissions on U.S. air quality. 
  • News headlines identifying the drop in vehicle travel as the primary cause of better air quality in U.S. cities during March and April 2020 are not supported by the data.  
  • What the data show is that U.S. cities have some of the cleanest air in the world. Weather and natural pollution sources have at least as large of an effect on U.S. pollution levels as human emissions.  
  • The lack of significant improvement in air quality during this major reduction in activity is evidence that tighter air quality standards and greater use of electric vehicles will likely yield negligible air quality improvements.  

Key Facts
Surprisingly small declines in air pollution during the #COVID19 shutdown suggest more regulations would come with significant cost but minimal environmental benefit.
U.S. cities have some of the cleanest air in the world, with airborne pollutants approaching natural levels.
Air quality data from the #coronavirus shutdowns suggest more electric vehicles wouldn't make our air sigificantly cleaner. #EVs
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