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Keep the Air Clean to Keep America Healthy

Every American deserves and expects cleaner air. The Clean Air Act has helped meet that expectation for 40 years. Yet some lawmakers have launched an all-out assault on this fundamental protection for our health. They are trying to prevent the EPA from updating standards for such toxins as mercury and arsenic and for the greenhouse-gas pollutant carbon dioxide; their efforts, if they succeed, would take our country back to a darker time when we all breathed dirtier air.

Most of us have loved ones whose quality of life is diminished -- or even endangered -- by breathing dirty air. My son-in-law is one of 24 million Americans living with asthma, a condition made worse by air pollution. Several of my family members suffer from heart disease, and I had breast cancer; the risks for both of these diseases can be elevated by air pollutants.

I remember traveling to Los Angeles in the 1970s, when the air hit unhealthy levels of pollution more than 200 days a year. That number dropped to 28 days by 2004. In the 1970s, nearly 90 percent of American children had blood-lead levels higher than the Centers for Disease Control deemed safe. Today, only 2 percent of children do.

The Clean Air Act led to those improvements by phasing out lead in gasoline and reducing air pollution in cities. And because the law sparked innovations -- from catalytic converters for tailpipes to scrubbers for smokestacks -- these advances came at a relatively small cost.

Still, the work of the Clean Air Act is not done. Hundreds of power plants still lack modern pollution controls, and our nation has not yet enacted limits on carbon dioxide emissions. Pollution from coal-fired power plants alone led to approximately 13,000 premature deaths in 2010.

Americans want the government to take care of this unfinished business. A recent poll found that 82 percent of Americans support the work of the EPA, in general, and 73 percent support the agency's effort to reduce CO2 emissions, in particular. People know that if the government won't make our air safer, polluters will not do it themselves. We need the EPA to be a line of defense for our families against deep-pocketed industries. NRDC has fought to preserve the Clean Air Act in the past, and we will do so again now, but we need your help. To stay informed and find out how to take action to preserve the Clean Air Act, follow us on Facebook or to go to NRDC's blog to read the latest expert analysis from our staff.

Frances Beinecke,

image of Frances Beinecke
Frances Beinecke is the president of NRDC and has worked with the organization for more than 30 years. Prior to becoming the president in 2006, Frances was the executive director for eight years, during which time NRDC's membership doubled and the st... READ MORE >