The United States is a leader in environmental progress. While our clean air, water, and lands should be grounds for celebration, CNN and other “fact checkers” keep trying to deny the well-documented fact that the United States currently has the cleanest air on record. If you don’t want to take our word for it, you can look to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or a number of state environmental officials charged with implementing clean air responsibilities at the local level.
Life:Powered is committed to the facts. Here is a true picture of our nation’s air, with links to the most comprehensive, unbiased information available on the topic.
THE FACTS: Today the United States has the cleanest air on record.
- U.S. air is 73 percent cleaner today than it was in 1970.
- U.S. air is at its cleanest point since the U.S. EPA started recording these trends.
- Clean air trends are projected to continue improving.
CLEAN AIR EXPLAINED:
Air quality is primarily measured by the presence of six different types of pollutants, including ozone, nitrous oxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and lead. The EPA has been tracking the levels of these key air pollutants since 1970 through a combination of ground level monitors, continuous emission monitors installed directly at sources (like factories or power plants), and satellites.
Every year, the EPA produces a report called “Our Nation’s Air,” which describes in great detail the latest trends for each of these pollutants. It’s the most comprehensive and sophisticated analysis of our nation’s air, put together by a team of scientists and non-political agency experts. The most recent report shows that between 1970 and 2017, the combined emissions of these six pollutants has dropped by 73 percent. In other words, our air is 73 percent cleaner today than it was in 1970 and at its cleanest point since the EPA started monitoring these trends. More startling is that this progress has occurred alongside significant economic growth, increased population, increased vehicles miles traveled, and more energy consumption.
All of these trends are expected to continue, partially through regulatory reforms — including permitting incentives that are are already encouraging industry to invest in modern, efficient technologies — but especially through continued technological advancements in the free market.
Internationally, our air quality is the envy of the world. We are the only highly populated nation that meets the World Health Organization’s most stringent air quality standards. According to the State of Global Air report, the United States has achieved the largest global decrease in percentage of people living in areas exceeding the WHO guideline, plummeting from 50% in 1990 to just 3% in 2017. Many countries are seeking to replicate U.S. programs, and numerous partnerships have been formed to advance U.S. environmental success abroad.
THE FACTS IN CONTEXT:
In an effort to undermine the facts about our clean, safe air, some media outlets have hyperfocused on one article highlighting a short-term increase in “bad air quality” days. Three paragraphs from the end, the article itself notes that the cause for this slight increase is the wildfires caused by powerline and forestry mismanagement, not environmental policy changes. The uptick, while important to be aware of, is just a single data point in a much larger picture of our nation’s air quality.
Another environmentalist favorite is an annual report from the American Lung Association that claims a reversal of recent air trends by comparing certain emission levels over select three-year periods. The ALA’s annual report is a longstanding smear campaign regurgitating the same disingenuous story year after year.
Take for example, this quote from news coverage of the ALA’s 2014 report: “[O]ver 147 million people — about 47% of the nation — live in counties with unhealthy air, according to the report. Nearly 30 million of them are in California, where 77% of the population lives in counties with failing grades.”
Now from their latest 2019 report: “More than 141 million people live in counties that got at least one “F” for unhealthy air.”
While it’s hard to compare previous years’ reports since the ALA’s methodology is constantly changing, let’s take these claims at face value. There’s good news: 6 million people now live in healthier air compared to the 2014 report.
You don’t need to be an environmental engineer or air quality expert to see that this report is designed to paint a perpetually negative picture, ignoring even its own indicators of progress.
THE GOOD NEWS
Our significant progress in clean, safe air is grounds for celebration after decades of good work. While fact checkers and environmentalist organizations will likely continue their distortion campaigns when it comes to our successes, the parts of the world with the worst air continue to seek out and replicate U.S. air quality programs because they work. The fact-based evidence couldn’t be clearer. Our air is better today than ever before.
Mandy Gunasekara is the founder of the Energy 45 Fund and a senior fellow at Life:Powered. She previously served as principal deputy assistant administrator in the Office of Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency, and as counsel to the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.