U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Touts Continued Environmental Progress

Published August 23, 2019

With the unemployment rate in the United States at its lowest in more than 50 years and the U.S. economy continuing to expand despite a global slowdown, America’s air quality has become the envy of the world, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states in its annual report on air quality.

Clearing the Air

The EPA announced nationwide concentrations of all measured air pollutants have dropped dramatically. Between 1970 and 2018, the combined emissions of six key pollutants dropped by 74 percent, EPA reports.

Among the pollutants and air toxics EPA is charged with monitoring and ensuring are reduced to levels safe for human health and the environment, between 1990 and 2018 carbon monoxide (CO) declined 74 percent; coarse particulate matter (PM 10) decreased by 26 percent; fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), measured since 2000, dropped by 39 percent; lead, which declined sharply before 1990 when leaded gasoline was banned, was reduced even further, down 82 percent since 2010; nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels have declined 57 percent; ozone (O3) concentrations have been reduced by 21 percent; and sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the air has decreased by 89 percent.

Better Economy, Air Quality

Even as the atmospheric concentrations of regulated air pollutants fell sharply, the U.S. economy grew by 275 percent since 1970, EPA’s report notes.

“Americans drove more miles, and population and energy use increased,” the agency’s report says.

The United States added 465,000 factory jobs during the first two years of the Trump administration. This boost in industrial activity would normally be expected to be accompanied by rising emissions. But EPA data shows that isn’t happening.

EPA reports concentrations of regulated air pollutants have continued to decline since President Donald Trump took office. From 2016 to 2018, CO concentrations fell by 7.2 percent, PM 10 declined 1.2 percent, PM 2.5 fell 1.9 percent, NOx dropped 8.7 percent, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) levels declined 3.3 percent.

“One of America’s great but untold environmental success stories is that we have made—and continue to make—great improvements in our air quality, thanks largely to state and federal implementation of the Clean Air Act and innovation in the private sector,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler  in a statement announcing the release of agency’s air quality report. “Emissions of all key air pollutants dropped between 2016 and 2018, and lead and sulfur dioxide concentrations dropped by double-digit percentages during the same period.

“The U.S. is a global leader in clean air progress, and we’ve proven that we can protect the environment while growing our economy,” Wheeler said.

Cities, States Getting Cleaner

EPA data shows a steady decline in the number of cities and regions violating national ambient air quality standards.

“Through successful state-led implementation, numerous areas across the country are showing improvement and fewer areas are in nonattainment,” EPA’s report says. “Since 2010, there were no violations of the standards for CO and NO2.”

Economic progress is compatible with environmental quality, says David Wojick, Ph.D., a senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).

“Clean air and prosperity go hand in hand,” said Wojick. “We should be celebrating, rather than nonsensically trying to control global carbon dioxide levels we did not create and that do not endanger us.”

‘About Political Power’

Activists and politicians pushing for ever-stricter emission limits are focused on wielding political power, not protecting public health, says Dan Kish, a distinguished senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research.

“We’ve fixed the real environmental problems, and our air is cleaner than ever before, even while our economy has boomed,” said Kish. “But since it hasn’t stopped economic progress, capitalism, or our constitutional republic, many living off gloom and doom are unsatisfied. That’s because it’s never been about the environment or energy for them. It has always been about political power.”

The EPA’s report notes air emissions come from a variety of sources, both stationary and mobile. Among the stationary sources of air emissions are power-generating facilities such as electric utilities and industrial boilers, and industrial and commercial facilities such as cement kilns, drycleaners, metal smelters, and petroleum refineries.

Non-stationary sources of regulated air pollutants include road and non-road sources of mobile emissions such as passenger and commercial vehicles (including airplanes, trains, and trucks), marine vessels, and recreational, construction, and farm equipment.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with CFACT.