The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – the federal guardian of clean air – has issued new standards to control smog that scientists and environmental organizations are criticizing for not going far enough. EPA’s action offers a stark reminder that, in the absence of meaningful regulations, consumer action is critical if we’re going to reduce air pollution now and in the future.
According to the New York Times, 345 counties currently violate the new standards EPA has set to reduce smog and clean up the air. Bringing those counties into compliance would prevent 900 to 1,100 premature deaths a year and result in 5,600 fewer hospital or emergency room visits. Even with these benefits, groups like the Association of Clean Air Agencies worry that the standards are still too low.
The timetable for meeting the smog standards could be decades, reports the Times, depending on the severity of the problem in each city. Industries like the electric utility industry are expected to resist reducing the pollution from power plants to meet EPA’s clean air directives. In tones that harken back to the debate around global warming, the Edison Electric Institute, a utility trade association, is challenging the scientifically-accepted cause-and-effect relationship between smog and human health — even though millions of people already suffer increased asthma, heart attacks, and other ailments from polluted air.
While consumers should contact their member of Congress to support stricter standards, they shouldn’t wait for more government action to take steps to protect their air. Smog results directly from burning fossil fuels. Consumers can help improve the air in their cities and towns by reducing the amount of energy they use. If every household installed just one compact fluorescent light bulb, for example, it would have the equivalent benefit of taking 800,000 cars off the road.
Consumers can also use programmable thermostatsand energy efficient appliances, take mass transit or carpool, and buy electricity generated by windpower or biomass.