WASHINGTON (CN) – A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency shows U.S. air quality has improved alongside expansion of the American population and economy since the passage of the Clean Air Act, but the agency concedes there is room for improvement.
The report released Wednesday, mandated by Congress under the Clean Air Act and known as Our Nation's Air, shows an increase in the nation’s production levels alongside a decrease in pollution levels. Specifically, the numbers show a 74% decrease in six common pollutants since 1970 while the gross domestic product grew by 275%. The Clean Air Act was passed in its present form in 1970 and last amended in 1990.
“The United States is proud to be a world leader in terms of clean air,” Anne Idsal acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in a press call ahead of the release of today’s report. “The data today shows we can continue to improve and protect our environment while benefiting the economy.”
Using data collected from 1990 to 2018, standout statistics include a 21% decrease in ozone air pollution and 74% decrease in carbon monoxide.
But while overall air pollution has gone down in recent decades, the report shows an increase in unhealthy air days under the Trump administration.
An analysis of 35 cities shows the number of unhealthy air quality days jumped from 701 in 2016 to 729 in 2017, the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, and 799 days last year. The measure hit a low of 598 days in 2014 under the Obama administration.
The EPA’s report acknowledges the need for improvement.
“Our nation’s air continues to improve,” the report summary states. “However, work must continue to ensure healthy air for all communities. EPA and our partners at the state, tribal and local levels will continue to work to address the complex air quality problems we face.”
The report comes amid concerns from environmental activists over Trump’s steps to roll back sections of the Clean Air Act as well as other Obama-era policies relating to coal fired-power plants and vehicle emissions. Trump has claimed regulations hurt business interests, but the report appears to show otherwise and environmentalists were eager to point that out.
“Public health and safety protections are not [achieved] at the expense of an extremely strong economy,” Dr. Andrew A. Rosenberg, director of the Union for Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Rosenberg said Trump's argument against regulation in the face of economic impact was proved patently false by the new report.
“Our economy has grown remarkably while we’ve taken strong actions to clean up the air,” he said.
Idsal, who was appointed by Trump in late 2017 and has expressed doubts about man-made climate change, refused to clarify her stance on the press call despite the data showing that more regulation appeared to benefit air quality.
“Our regulating history under the CAA has demonstrated there is not a zero-sum game that some have adopted in the past in terms of approaching the issue of environmental regulations [and] whether or not you can have a robust and growing economy,” she said. “The history bares itself out. We continue to improve in air quality across the board… it’s a track record we look forward to continuing.”
Just last month, Trump said, without pointing to specific data, that America’s “air and water are the cleanest they've ever been.” Idsal did not clarify if any of the data points from the report were those Trump took credit for.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.