Though these emissions numbers are estimates only, actual measurements of ambient pollution also show significant improvement since 1970.
"Thanks to this progress, today's air is the cleanest most Americans have ever breathed," Leavitt concluded. He added that "the economy has grown by 176% during the same time," suggesting "cleaner air and an expanding economy can coexist."
It may be misleading to attribute all of the air pollution gains to the 1970 Clean Air Act. Technological advances, as well as state and local regulatory efforts, were playing a role before Washington became involved. Nonetheless, Leavitt sees the pollution reductions since 1970 as evidence that the Clean Air Act is working.
Regulatory measures already in place and scheduled to take effect in the coming years virtually ensure continued air pollution gains. These include motor vehicle standards, currently being phased in, that require new cars, SUVs and trucks to be 70%-90% cleaner than those currently on the roads.
Despite the good news, many people believe that air quality in the U.S. is not improving, or is getting worse. A recent poll conducted for the nonprofit Foundation for Clean Air Progress (FCAP) found that only 29% of Americans believe the air has gotten cleaner, while 38% think it has worsened and 31% believe it has stayed the same. In other words, seven out of 10 Americans are wrong about current air quality trends.
The EPA's announcement that pollution has been cut in half, like most upbeat news on the environment, was largely ignored by the press.
Leavitt said he hopes to finalize the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) before the end of the year. Applicable to coal-fired power plants across a 29-state region, Leavitt says CAIR will lead to an "approximately 70% reduction in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides." Given the progress to date in improving the nation's air quality, and the inevitable future gains from measures already on the books and set to be rolled out over the next few years, there are serious questions about the marginal benefits of this or any other new rule.
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