NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Houston's Air Is Cleaner Than Los Angeles' -- And Other Cities'

October 30, 2000

The Gore campaign charges that Houston, Texas, has passed Los Angeles to become "the smog capital of the United States," "No. 1 in air pollution," and "the dirtiest city in the nation." The charge is false, say two experts who advise the Bush campaign.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, air quality in Houston is improving and is unambiguously better than L.A. and many other cities, based on levels of the six air pollutants the EPA regulates under the Clean Air Act.

  • It is true that in 1999, Houston had the highest number of days on which it exceeded the EPA's ozone standard -- while L.A.'s number of exceedences fell sharply in 1999 due to unusually cool summer weather.
  • But Houston's level of particulates -- the other major component of "smog" -- was 20 percent lower than L.A.'s.
  • Houston's level of nitrogen oxides was 63 percent lower than L.A.'s.
  • And its levels of carbon monoxide were 64 percent lower, and 78 percent lower for lead.
  • L.A. and Houston had the same levels of sulfur dioxide.

According the EPA Air Quality Index, which aggregates levels of all six air pollutants and weights them according to the health risks of each, Houston is better than 10 other metropolitan areas, and was better than 10 other cities on a separate EPA index of ozone alone. (1998 data are the latest available, but rankings for the following years will probably be similar.) Ambient air quality in Texas improved for five of the six national air pollutants from 1994 to 1998, according to the EPA.

Source: Christopher DeMuth (American Enterprise Institute) and Steven Hayward(Pacific Research Institute), "Smoke and Smearers," Weekly Standard, October 30, 2000.


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