Facts Not Fear on Air Pollution

Policy Reports | Energy and Natural Resources

No. 294
Monday, December 11, 2006
by Joel Schwartz


Most of what Americans "know" about air pollution is false.  Polls show most Americans believe air pollution has been steady or rising during the last few decades and will worsen in the future, and is a serious threat to people's health.  But these widely held views are based on myths that are demonstrably false.  Air quality in America's cities is better than it has been in more than a century, despite the fact that Americans are driving more miles, using more energy, and producing and consuming more goods and services than ever.

"Air quality is improving, not getting worse."

Indeed, despite the fact that air quality has improved dramatically, government regulators are in the process of implementing much more stringent standards that are unnecessary and unattainable.  In some metropolitan areas, the war on air pollution - and its associated costs, perverse incentives and lifestyle restrictions - will become a permanent fixture.

As this paper will show, air pollution affects far fewer people, far less often and with far less severity than regulators, environmentalists, health scientists and journalists have led Americans to believe.  By pursuing tiny or nonexistent health benefits at great cost, air pollution regulations are making us worse off.

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