air pollution clean air standards smog soot

State Of The Air 2012 -- ALA Report
american lung ozone vehicles power plants

US air pollution hits 10-year low, report finds

While it’s good to see that clean technology works it’s also necessary to remember we need economic justice to finish the job. We trim, blend, and append two 2012 articles on a report by the American Lung Association on air pollution from (1) Christian Science Monitor, Apr 25, by A. Mach, and Huffington Post, Apr 25, by J. Zelman.

by Andrew Mach and by Joanna Zelman

American cities with the dirtiest air have reached a new milestone in efforts to clean up their act. The American Lung Association (ALA) credits the trend to tougher environmental standards set for smog and soot in the air.

The Clean Air Act has sought cleanup of major air pollution sources, such as coal-fired power plants and the fleet of older, dirtier SUVs, pick-up trucks, vans, and diesel engines.

Major improvements in air quality were seen in cities most polluted by ozone as well as particle pollution -- a noxious mix of ash, vehicle exhaust, and aerosols. As of 2010, ozone levels across the country had dropped 13 percent since 2000, while particle pollution was 24 percent lower, according to the ALA, which began to monitor air quality in 2000.

Los Angeles remained the city with the worst ozone-pollution problem. But it -- along with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and more than half of the country’s most smog-polluted cities -- reported their lowest air-pollution levels in 13 years.

The trend toward cleaner air continued even as the economy began rebounding in 2008 following the recession, giving rise to higher energy use and more miles driven.

All but three of the 25 cities with the most year-round particle pollution improved since last year’s report.

Meanwhile, Santa Fe, N.M.; Bismarck, N.D.; Duluth, Minn.; Honolulu; and Vero Beach, Fla., ranked as the cleanest cities in the country.

The EPA estimated in 2010 improvements brought on by the Clean Air Act since 1990 have saved the lives of 160,000 people. The New England Journal of Medicine reported in January 2009 that cleaner air has added nearly five months to the average US life expectancy.

“But despite these improvements, America’s air quality standards are woefully outdated,” said Charles Connor, American Lung Association president and CEO, “and unhealthy levels of air pollution still exist across the nation, putting the health of millions of Americans at stake.”

The ALA warns that some 127 million Americans -- more than 40 percent of the population -- still live in areas that it graded with an F for air quality. These people suffer pollution levels that are often too dangerous to breathe.

The most-polluted cities detailed in the report were heavily concentrated in California. Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno, and Hanford registered especially high levels of pollution.

Recent proposals from Republicans in Congress have included delaying implementation and blocking enforcement parts of the Clean Air Act, and limiting the EPA’s ability to consider all of the scientific evidence regarding the harm to public health.

To read more

JJS: More on the report continues:

ALA project director Janice Nolen told The Huffington Post that the continued cleanup of power plants and vehicle fleet turnover has led to improvements.

"Cleaning up air pollution has measurable public health benefits," Nolen said. During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, for example she said, morning traffic levels decreased by 23 percent, the region's ozone levels decreased by 28 percent, and pediatric asthma emergency room visits dropped by an estimated 42 percent.

"These results suggest that efforts to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality also can help improve the respiratory health of a community," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Despite the benefits of reduced air pollution, Nolen said that generally, "we are not yet at the point where we're providing air that doesn't send people to the emergency room."

While short-term particle pollution is based on a 24-hour period, year-round particle pollution is considered the annual average of pollution in the region. The report used a weighted average number of days for both ozone and short-term particle pollution levels.

Four cities were newcomers to the list of cities most polluted by particle pollution: Wheeling, W. Va.; Atlanta; Fairmont, W. Va.; and Davenport, Iowa. Although the cities were added in part because other cities made greater improvements in reducing pollution levels, the list includes cities "where some of the cleanup measures haven't been put in place as much, where you've had a lot of pollution from coal plants," said Nolen.

Some states suffer not just from plants in their own cities, but plants in other states. "The folks who live in those communities can't address it themselves. They can't stop the pollution from blowing across state lines," according to Nolen.

In the middle and eastern U.S., coal-fired power plants play a larger role in contributing to air pollution.

The report lists at-risk groups that are particularly vulnerable to air-pollution threats, although air pollution does not necessarily cause these conditions. They include people with asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and those of certain ages. Another notable group listed is people living in poverty.

"Over 16.9 million people with incomes meeting the federal poverty definition live in counties with unhealthful levels of ozone," the report says.

One of ALA's goals for the year, Nolen said, is "to get a strong particulate matter standard out and finalized ... There are cleaner sources than coal burning for energy.”

To read more

JJS: Industry now uses effective measures: modifying exhaust, modifying fuel, modifying engines, and modifying the mode, or, switching from driving to riding transit and bikes and walking. Another solution, maybe even more powerful, is to use land efficiently, which means distances between live, work, shop, and play are shorter. And besides trying to design efficient patterns of settlement, there is another method to try -- public recover of land value.

When owners must pay a periodic “rent” to one’s community, then owners don’t speculate and withhold land from use (or from its most efficient use). Instead, they put their land to its best use or sell to someone else who will. That keeps the price of land low and the use of each location most in tune with the community’s current needs. You end up with a compact metro region with all the mixed uses close together, including the use of recreation, so there’s plenty of parks and sufficient open space. Lovely landscaping and lively streets make walking and pedaling an attractive mode of transportation, a mode much less polluting.

Along with recovering site value, the public could also de-tax the values it does not create: de-tax buildings, sales, and incomes. Where land rent is recovered and built value not taxed, there structures are of much higher quality, so they leak less heat and require less artificial light. Hence their energy demand is low and their indirect generation of air pollution is low, too.

This shift of taxes off buildings, onto land, off privately-generated values, onto publicly-generated values, is part of the larger green tax shift. That tax shift in turn is part of geonomics, the broader shift of both taxes and subsidies. Subsidies can be especially harmful to the environment since they now pay for things like sprawl. An indirect subsidy is that government fails to charge polluters the cost of their pollution. That makes driving and burning coal seem much cheaper than riding buses or using photovoltaic panels.

Finally, if you really wanted to clean the air you’d do something about “rush hour”, which is perhaps the most polluting thing we collectively do. Basically, you’d shrink the workweek to anywhere from two to twenty hours, so people could work any time they like and everyone would not all have to work at the same time. And the best way to let people work less (any time) is to pay them for not working at all, sort of like how we treat the rich.

From where would we get the money? From the land, the natural resources, the EM spectrum, and from all the privileges that government grants, everything from corporate charters to utility franchises. Presently, those privileges and aspects of nature attract trillions of dollars of spending in the US, enough for an income cushion, if shared, so people could work much less and hence to drive much less.

See how clarifying your economics cleans up your atmosphere?


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .

Also see:

Subsidizing Risk

Coal Costs up to a Half Trillion Dollars Annually

Smog may add to diabetes risk

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