EPA Says Millions Breathe Polluted Air, But Takes No Action

December 17, 2004
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(17 December 2004 -- Washington)  Environmental Defense today sharply criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to finalize long overdue standards to cut the dangerous air pollution impacting millions of Americans.  EPA announced today that nearly 100 million Americans live in and around areas with unhealthy particulate pollution levels.  The states with these unhealthy air areas will be required to adopt air quality management plans by February 2008 to restore healthy air.  Power plant smokestacks are the key contributor to unhealthy particulate pollution levels across the eastern United States and without the necessary standards to curb their pollution, achieving healthy air for these communities will be incredibly challenging. 

'The EPA is telling millions of our children and grandparents today that they have a serious health problem on their hands, but the Bush administration is insisting that the solution is going to have to wait.  The administration must end the foot-dragging and finally cut the harmful pollution from power plant smokestacks," said Environmental Defense health program director and physician Dr. John Balbus.   

"The Bush administration deserves a lump of coal this holiday for its failure to protect the health of our children and grandparents from power plant pollution," said Michael Shore, senior air policy analyst with Environmental Defense.  "Mayors and governors across the Midwest, Southeast and Northeast are being undercut in the fight to restore healthy air until the Bush administration cleans up the power plant smokestacks that threaten the health of millions of Americans."

Due to the significant contribution of power plants to high particulate pollution across the East, states with areas identified as having unhealthy particulate pollution must rely on a combination of pollution cuts from upwind power plants and local control measures to restore healthy air.  The December 11 Bush administration decision to postpone standards to clean up power plant particulate makes it extremely difficult and costly for mayors and governors in the Midwest, Southeast and Northeast to achieve healthy air. 

EPA national emissions inventory data indicates the country's fleet of power plants discharge 68% of all sulfur dioxide and 22% of all oxides of nitrogen released nationwide.  Both of these contaminants transform in the atmosphere into harmful particulate pollution.  EPA analysis shows that particulate pollution is associated with premature death, heart attack, lung cancer and respiratory illnesses, and that children, the elderly and people with pre-existing heart and respiratory diseases are especially at risk.