Kristin Eberhard, Legal Director, Western Energy and Climate Projects, Santa Monica
Although 91 percent of Californians live in areas with unhealthy air, the state’s initiatives to cut emissions have resulted in significant improvements in air quality over the past 13 years, according to a national report released yesterday.
The American Lung Association’s (ALA) State of the Air 2012 report shows that while much work remains to be done with more than 33.6 million Californians residing in counties receiving a failing grade for at least one pollutant, the state’s clean energy and climate control efforts are succeeding in improving air quality.
The report underscores that California is on the right track, but needs to remain steadfast in its mission.
“California is home to some of the most polluted air in the United States, with over 90% of residents living in counties with unhealthy air during some parts of the year,” according to the American Lung Association in California (ALAC), which puts them at risk for asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death.
The organization notes the state’s air quality challenges are “compounded by a population of over 36 million, heavy dependency on petroleum for transportation, and climate and geographic and weather conditions that are more conducive to poor air quality.”
As a result, the ALA says, California leads America’s most-polluted lists:
- California is home to nine of the nation’s 10 most-ozone polluted cities, including the top seven: Los Angeles, Visalia, Bakersfield, Fresno, Hanford, Sacramento and San Diego. San Luis Obispo was No. 9 and Merced ranks tenth.
- In terms of short-term particle pollution, five cities lead the U.S. list: Bakersfield, Fresno, Hanford, Los Angles and Modesto. Merced ranked 10th.
- The nation’s dirtiest five metropolitan areas for year-round fine particulate pollution are all in California — Bakersfield, Hanford, Los Angeles, Visalia and Fresno.
Nonetheless, the numbers also show there are reasons to be hopeful.
“Still the long-term trends show California’s air quality significantly improving, thanks to four decades of regulations and programs to reduce emissions from cars, trucks, buses, fuels, construction and agricultural equipment and other sources,” according to ALAC.
The State of the Air data showed the number of unhealthy days for ozone and fine particulate matter “has declined in most of the highest polluted areas of the state, with several areas of the state experiencing their lowest pollution levels since 2000.” In addition, 86 percent of California’s counties received a Pass grade for annual particle pollution, with Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties earning their first ever passing grades.
Although California is making “real and steady progress in the fight for clean air,” as ALAC’s President and CEO Jane Warner notes, “much still needs to be done, and now is not the time to stop progress.”
Warner said California can continue to show leadership “by supporting implementation of state clean car, clean fuel and diesel regulations, redesigning our communities to reduce vehicle trips, and bringing more renewable energy to the state such as solar and wind power.” Californians can help, she says, by driving less, using cleaner transportation options, recycling, avoiding wood burning and using energy-efficient appliances.
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