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1996 News Releases



Release Date: 12/18/96
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Statement of Mary D. Nichols
Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Annual EPA Report on National Air Quality Status and Trends December 17, 1996

The report we are releasing today shows that over the last ten years and again during the most recent year for which we have fully audited data, the air quality in the United States has continued to improve.

The most impressive success story is sulfur dioxide, which decreased 37 10n the ten years covered by this report and a remarkable 17 10n the last year. These SO2 reductions are far beyond what industry or anyone else predicted. The most recent reductions are the result of the acid rain program.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, these reductions are showing real-world benefits in the reduced acidity of rainfall in some of the most acid-sensitive lakes and forests of the United States, including the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions. Sulfur dioxide is one of the main sources of particulate matter, so we see a real benefit to public health from these improvements as well.

The national monitoring network also shows that concentrations of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide had their largest single-year drops ever in 1994-95, while lead levels in air remain extremely low in all urban areas, and particulate matter fell slightly. Even for ozone, our most difficult pollutant to control, while oneyear concentrations bumped up slightly due to very hot summer of l995, the peak levels were down and the overall ten-year trend shows improvement.

The good news in this report is that as a nation we can set ambitious goals and we can make great strides toward meeting them, while growing our economy at the same time. As you know, we are currently seeking public comment on proposals for ozone and particulate matter to ensure that public health is protected, as mandated by Congress. It couldn't be more clear. This report proves we can meet the challenge of cleaning the air and we can do it in ways that make economic and environmental sense.

The Administrator and I will be happy to answer your questions.

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Statement of Carol M. Browner Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Annual EPA Report on National Air Quality Status and Trends

December 17, 1996

Today, EPA releases our annual report on national air quality status and trends. Today's report tells us that air pollution is continuing to decline -- continuing 25 years of progress in cleaning America's air since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970.

But much remains to be done if we are to ensure safe, healthy air for all the people of this country, especially our children.

Over the past generation, air pollution has declined dramatically even while our economy has expanded.

Over 25 years, the gross domestic product increased 99while emissions of the nation's six major air pollutants declined by 29

Clearly, we do not need to choose between our health and our jobs. Economic growth and environmental protection can go hand in hand. A healthy economy helps us achieve a healthier environment; a healthy environment helps to build a stronger economy.

Today's report is proof that when we work together as a nation -- industry, small business, government, and communities -- we can do the job of cleaning the nation's air in common-sense, cost-effective ways.

Based on air quality monitoring at 4,000 locations throughout the country, the report shows that between 1994 and 1995, emissions of the nation's major air pollutants continued to decline.

During the past ten years, ozone, carbon monoxide, lead, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide -- the six air pollutants targeted in the Clean Air Act -- have all declined. For all pollutants except ozone, the 1995 air quality levels were the best in a decade.

New monitoring data also show that toxic air pollutants declined significantly between 1994 and 1995. Our early analysis indicates this progress may be attributable to the use of cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline.

Further, today's report shows that our nation's effort to reduce acid rain under the Clean Air Act is working even better than expected. Since the beginning of the Acid Rain Program in 1990, we have exceeded our sulfur dioxide reduction goal by a dramatic 39

Over the past quarter-century, this nation has made significant progress toward the goals established by Congress in the Clean Air Act of 1970. The passage of the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990 under the Bush Administration gave further impetus to this important national effort.

The Clinton Administration has placed a high priority on protecting the health of the people of this country by taking aggressive action to protect our air. This Administration's standards for cleaner cars, cleaner gasoline, cleaner power plants, cleaner chemical plants -- all designed to meet the goals set forth by Congress -- have made a significant contribution to cleaning America's air.

But we still have more to do before all Americans, especially our children, have safe, fresh air to breathe.

Today's report underscores the effectiveness of strong, protective air pollution standards and the continuing need for such standards to protect public health.

Despite the progress, approximately 80 million people -- or three in ten -- live in areas where the air does not meet existing health standards.

We as a nation face many challenges in continuing to protect public health. As science provides us with new information about the health risks of air pollution, EPA must continually review and update our standards to ensure that they protect the public.

Under the Clean Air Act, Congress directs EPA to review our standards for major air pollutants at least every five years to ensure that they reflect the best current science -- and to take action if current standards are inadequate to protect public health. Our health standards must

protect all our people, including our children.

Three weeks ago, EPA proposed to strengthen the nation's standards for ozone and particulate matter, better known as smog and soot. The proposal that we presented for public comment, when finalized, would provide a new measure of protection for the millions of Americans who today's science shows us are breathing unhealthy air -- particularly for children who are at risk. We look forward to receiving a broad range of comment before reaching a final decision on new standards. Today's report shows that such protections can be achieved while our economy continues to thrive and prosper.

We look forward to working with states, communities, industry, and the American people to continue this nation's progress in cleaning America's skies. To protect our health, we must protect our air.