The United States adopted the Clean Air Act in 1970 to protect our health from dirty, dangerous air. Thanks to that law, cities throughout the nation have cleaner air. Yet too many cities still have dangerous levels of air pollution. We push the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to deliver on the promise of the Clean Air Act of healthy air for all Americans by setting and enforcing strong pollution limits. We fight in the courts to enforce laws designed to make the air cleaner. And we advocate in Congress to protect these legal tools from people who want to make them weaker.

EPA Must Set Standards that Protect Our Health

To protect our health, the Clean Air Act tells the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set limits, called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, on six outdoor air pollutants. The stronger the standards, the less pollution we breathe. The American Lung Association has fought for years to strengthen them. We work to make sure that EPA bases these standards on the most current research and not on the misinformation of polluters, who want weak standards so they can continue to pollute the air.

Communities Must Clean Up to Meet the Standards

States and counties must keep working to clean up their air until they meet EPA standards for air pollution. States and counties determine the amount of pollution they must cut. Lung Association volunteers and staff join in those discussions to support cleaner air. States and counties also review plans for new roads and industry to see if they will add pollution to an existing problem, and use tools like cleaner fuels, smokestack testing and limits on outdoor burning to clean the air. 

One key way to help clean up the air in your community is to get involved in the formal air quality programs in your state, county and city. Many have created special citizen committees to advise them. You can also get updates on the work they're doing and share your concerns during their public meetings, even if you aren't on the advisory committee. To find your local air quality office, check the National Association of Clean Air Agencies website.

Air quality programs follow three basic steps:

  1. They set the goal. Air quality programs track air pollution with monitors. Using this monitoring information, they compare your community's pollution to the national standards. That comparison shows how much cleaner the air needs to be in your area. Some communities routinely post those air pollution monitor readings online.
  2. They decide what to clean up. Computer models can help predict future levels of pollution in any given area. Air quality programs use these tools to work with advisory groups and the public to combat air pollution. They look for ways to cut the most pollution for the best cost. Those discussions result in a plan for the community to follow.
  3. They follow the plan. Air quality programs work to make sure the community stays on track to cut pollution. They review plans for new or expanding industry to be sure those new sources don't add more pollution. They also review transportation plans to predict the impact of new roads on air quality.

Environmental Justice

People living or working near major highways, ports or polluting facilities may breathe much dirtier air than people elsewhere. Those places may be home to people who have low incomes or come from minority or ethnic backgrounds. This places a serious risk to their health.

Your community should take steps to reduce the extra burden these individuals face. For example, tighter air pollution controls on power plants can help cut dangerous pollution in nearby neighborhoods. So can using electric buses and cleaner trucks. Your community may need extra monitors to measure problems in some locations. Get involved in the air pollution planning program in your community, described above. Speak up to make sure that air pollution plans provide protection the same way in every neighborhood. Everyone, everywhere should have clean air to breathe.

Implementing, Enforcing and Defending the Clean Air Act

Although our air is cleaner than it was in 1970, we still don't truly have healthy air. We are calling on EPA to fully implement and enforce limits on air pollution, including the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

We are also defending the Clean Air Act to ensure that all Americans have air that is safe and healthy to breathe. The Clean Air Act has provided EPA with the authority and the responsibility to protect and clean up the nation's air since 1970. Thanks to that law and later amendments that strengthened it, people throughout the nation breathe cleaner, healthier air.

But polluters and some members of Congress want to interfere with EPA's ability to protect public health. Most Americans support more clean air protections. We work to ensure EPA has the legal authority and necessary funding to continue to protect public health.

Page last updated: March 1, 2021

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