Air quality grants to states 30%1
Through a competitive process, EPA provides funding to state and local governments for activities such as air quality monitoring, transportation (mobile source management), climate change, indoor air and pollution control.2 Sources of air pollutants and environmental conditions vary from state to state, and these grants are designed to give state and local government flexibility in addressing the sources they believe are most important.
Targeted air-sheds (state grants) 100% 3
Many areas of the US have not yet reduced levels ozone and particulates below regulatory thresholds. The targeted hair shed grants program provides funding to the top five most polluted “non-attainment areas” for ozone and particulates.4
Fuel efficiency standards and tailpipe emissions – regulatory withdrawal
The Trump Administration has announced its intention to rollback tailpipe emission standards and vehicle fuel efficiency standards. It also plans to try to override California’s more stringent set of vehicle emission standards. (California is a large enough market that it drives automobile design in the US.)
“The regulatory rollback on vehicle pollution will relax restrictions on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and will not require action by Congress….After withdrawing the Obama administration’s requirement for model years 2022 through 2025, the Trump administration will have a year to put forth an alternative set of efficiency standards, people familiar with the matter said… Eventually achieving those [emission control] targets would have drastically reduced the nation’s vehicle tailpipe pollution, which accounts for about a third of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions…. The E.P.A. will also begin legal proceedings to revoke a waiver for California that was allowing the state to enforce the tougher tailpipe standards for its drivers. “This means they’ll just keep polluting,” said S. William Becker, the executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. He also predicted that “if this administration goes after the California waiver, there will be an all-out brawl between Trump and California and the other states that will defend its program.”5
EPA’s vehicle emissions program regulates tailpipe emissions,6 and (in partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) EPA also sets fuel standards for energy efficiency in vehicles.7 These programs have led to substantial improvement in ambient air quality. Since 1970, emissions from individual vehicles (in grams per mile) have been reduced by over 90% for lead and the three pollutants that contribute to smog (volatile organic chemicals, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides) – despite a +400% increase in total miles driven each year. Current regulations require automakers to increase vehicles’ average fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.8
Diesel emissions reduction (state grants) 100%9
Diesel emissions reduction grants are part of the National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program.10 Through this program, funding is provided to retrofit school buses, heavy duty highway vehicles, marine engines, construction vehicles and cargo handling vehicles. Organizations eligible for funding include state, local, regional and tribal agencies (including port authorities with jurisdiction over transportation or air quality); school districts; nonprofit organizations with missions around pollution reduction or education.
Radon (EPA) 83%11; Radon (state & tribal grants) 100%12
The EPA radon program provides educational materials to homeowners, homebuyers, tenants and homebuilders about how to test for radon in the home, and how to install radon venting systems. Publications are available in English and Spanish.13 The radon grant program provides matching funds to state and tribal governments to support radon risk reduction programs.14
Context: Clean Air Act history and accomplishments 15
The first US air pollution law was passed in 1955, in response to episodes of deadly smog in Pennsylvania and London.16 This first statute provided funds to study the causes of air pollution, beginning a long tradition of grounding environmental laws in science – and using federal funds to pay for research.17 Congress expanded this research effort in 1963 and 1967, adding monitoring and methods of pollution control to the scientific agenda, while explicitly asking for analysis of how air pollutants move across state borders.
Programs to address air pollution didn’t gain much traction until 1970, when EPA was formed. The 1970 Amendments to the Clean Air Act required development of federal and state regulations to address pollution from “stationary sources “ (factories, power plants, oil & gas extraction, etc.) and “mobile sources” (vehicles), and gave EPA enforcement powers to give teeth to the law.18
Through the Clean Air Act, EPA sets limits on “ambient” air pollutants released from factories, refineries, power plants, oil and gas extraction, and vehicles. “Ambient’ pollutants travel with the winds and accumulate in the lower atmosphere – our breathing space. The air quality programs developed by EPA and states under ambient air quality regulations have greatly improved US air quality: between 1970 and 2013, emissions of the six most common ambient air pollutants19 fell by 68%, even as GDP tripled, energy consumption increased by 50%, vehicle use doubled and U.S. pop. grew by 54%.20
By contrast, carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution – which was not regulated as an ambient pollutant until 2012 – grew during this period, tracking trends in energy use and traffic growth. CO2 pollution is now on a downward trend, due to a combination of regulatory and market factors: vehicle miles traveled in the US have leveled off; power plants use less coal for electric power generation, switching to natural gas; and significant increases in power generation from renewable sources, particularly wind and solar. 21 A study of the costs and benefits of Clean Air Act implementation between 1990 and 2020 found that every $1 invested in clean air compliance provides $30 in health and productivity benefits.22
But it’s not yet time to declare victory over dirty air. Many Americans live in areas that still exceed harmful levels of ozone or particle pollution, putting some 116 million Americans at risk to lung cancer, asthma, cardiovascular damage, reproductive problems, and premature death.23 The Colorado Front Range (Denver to Fort Collins) is one of these high-risk these, ranking in the top ten for high levels of ground-level ozone, after missing multiple deadlines to reduce ozone levels below regulatory thresholds.24 Ozone sources include the oil and gas industry, coal-fired power plants and vehicle pollution (which is growing as population increases). Denver’s high altitude, coupled with wind patterns which carry pollutants from other cities, complicates attempts to reduce ozone to safe levels. The Colorado department of Public Health (CDPHE) regularly issues health advisories for the Front Range.25
Overall, the U.S. is producing less air pollution, but smog levels are still rising in the western U.S. because of pollutants released in Asian countries which drift across the Pacific Ocean. Asian air pollution contributed as much as 65 percent of an increase in Western ozone in recent years,” NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports from Shanghai. “China and India, where many consumer products are manufactured, are the worst offenders.”26
Here’s a visual snapshot of air pollution in China and the US on March 13, 2017. (Red is bad, green is good, yellow is trending the wrong way for healthy air.)27
EPA has worked with the State Department in developing and administering international agreements, and has a long-standing bilateral relationships with China, covering air, water, solid waste, climate change, and more. EPA also works with over 60 countries via multilateral and bilateral partnerships to address environmental issues of regional or global scope and to help some nations with their environmental challenges.
15 See http://www.epaalumni.org/hcp/air.pdf for a summary of Clean Air Act progress over the last 50 years.
16 London’s killer smog was recently featured on Netflix’s series “The Crown.”
19 Ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead.
20 @jacklienke Senior Attorney @PolicyIntegrity. Co-author, with Richard L. Revesz, of STRUGGLING FOR AIR (Oxford University Press 2016); https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/peg.pdf (p.2)
23 http://www.lung.org/about-us/media/press-releases/2016-state-of-the-air.html?; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gutting-epas-budget-and-staff-would-endanger-the- health_us_58b75494e4b0563cd36f6496
24 http://www.denverpost.com/2016/04/20/denver-ranks-8th-most-polluted-due-to-ozone-contamination-of-air/; http://www.denverpost.com/2016/03/17/air-pollution-is-declining-but-colorado-fails-to-meet-federal-targets/