NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

State of Air Quality: Improving

May 1, 2003

The American Lung Association, an advocacy group, releases it annual "State of the Air" report today, which it hopes "will rally opposition to proposed changes to the Clean Air Act." For four years running, cities in California have been named America's smoggiest in the ALA annual air-quality rankings, led by Los Angeles, Fresno and Bakersfield.

  • The list is based on how often cities' air quality reached unhealthy levels of ozone pollution, according to Environmental Protection Agency data for 1999-2001, the most recent year available.
  • The report notes "moderate improvements in smog levels" but attributes them to weather -- fewer hot days, more rain and wind -- rather than enforcement of anti-pollution laws.
  • It says air quality improved in 93 counties since the 2002 report but 26 counties got lower grades.

However, analysts point out that air pollution has been declining for decades -- and rather than being temporary, is likely to keep improving for decades to come. Furthermore, the most progress has been made in California. Nationally, air quality has drastically improved:

  • National compliance with the 1-hour ozone standard went from about 50 percent in the early 1980s to 87 percent today.
  • About 40 percent of U.S. monitoring locations still exceed EPA's stringent new 8-hour ozone standard, but 8-hour ozone levels have been dropping as well.
  • Virtually the entire nation (>99 percent) now meets all federal health standards for carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

More than 96 percent of the nation complies with PM10 standards (particulate matter under 10 micrometers in diameter), and the compliance rate is about 70 percent for EPA's stringent new annual PM2.5 standard. PM2.5 declined 33 percent between 1980 and 2000, say experts, with the most polluted areas achieving the greatest reductions.

Source: Anita Manning, "California cities are tops in smog again," USA Today, May 1, 2003; Joel Schwartz and Steven F. Hayward, "Four Questions Reporters Should Ask about the ALA's 'State of the Air' Report," April 30, 2003, Reason Public Policy Institute, "State of the Air Report 2003," May 2003, American Lung Association.

For USA Today text

For ALA report


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