New Report: U.S. Breathes Dangerous Levels of Smog

Report from the Center for American Progress and Center for Progressive Reform documents compliance with and enforcement of ozone pollution standards in 10 of the nation’s 11 most populous states

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In 10 of the nation’s 11 most populous states, well over half the population lives in areas with smog so bad that pollution levels routinely exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s safety standards, according to a new study by the Center for American Progress and the Center for Progressive Reform that examines state enforcement of clean air laws.

The report, Paper Tigers and Killer Air: How Weak Enforcement Leaves Communities Vulnerable to Smog, reveals that state environmental agencies in the 10 profiled states lack a sufficient number of inspectors to monitor industrial emissions and enforce the law—in large part due to declining federal grants to state and local air quality agencies, which are primarily responsible for enforcing federal clean air standards.

These states (California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas) contain a total of more than 158,000 sites with permits to emit ozone pollution. But they report having fewer than 1,100 inspectors, meaning that on average each inspector is responsible for inspecting 145 permitted facilities. California and Texas each have more than 50,000 permitted polluting facilities, dwarfing the other most populous states, and they also have the worst ratio of polluting facilities to inspectors: Texas has 352 sites per inspector, while California has 166 sites per inspector.

“When it comes to ozone pollution, the cop is off the beat,” says report co-author Rena Steinzor, a member of the board of the Center for Progressive Reform and a law professor at the University of Maryland. “Laws that aren’t enforced aren’t respected. Local restaurants and beauty parlors, and even cars in many states, must be inspected far more often than major polluters. No wonder the nation’s children suffer from an epidemic of asthma. EPA and the states’ approach makes it much easier for polluters to cut corners, avoid expenses, violate permit terms, and thus emit more air pollution than they are allowed. If the IRS took the same approach, the nation would go broke.”

The paltry number of state inspectors is a reflection of cutbacks in federal funding. Since 1993, federal grants to state and local air quality agencies have declined by 25 percent when adjusted for inflation, and President Bush’s FY 2007 budget calls for another significant cut of $15.6 million from a current budget of $172.7 million.

In addition, upon taking office in 2001, the Bush administration greatly relaxed inspection requirements on states. Now states must inspect polluting sources—including factories spewing tens of thousands of tons of harmful air pollutants—just once every five years.

“America’s children are paying the price for this neglect,” said Reece Rushing, associate director for regulatory policy at the Center for American Progress. “During ‘code red’ or ‘code orange’ days, parents are faced with an absurd choice—keep their children indoors when they could be out playing or risk exposing them to unsafe air. We can solve this problem. But we must take steps to strengthen state enforcement of clean air standards. The new Congress has an opportunity to set a new course by renewing federal investment in state and local air quality agencies and insisting on more frequent inspections.”

Click Here to Read the Full Report

STATE-BY-STATE AIR QUALITY STATISTICS

California

New Report: 94 Percent of Californians Breathe Dangerous Levels of Smog

In California, 93.7 percent of residents live in counties that fail to meet federal standards for ozone pollution, the major component of smog. This excessive pollution is the cause of numerous “code red” or “code orange” air advisories. The Riverside-San Bernardino metropolitan area, for example, experienced 454 days under a “code orange” alert or worse between 2001 and 2005; Los Angeles-Long Beach had 182; Fresno had 331; Bakersfield had 447.

California has 60,260 sites with permits to emit ozone pollution, and just 364 inspectors—one inspector for every 166 permitted polluting facilities.

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Georgia

New Report: 55 Percent of Georgians Breathe Dangerous Levels of Smog

In Georgia, 54.9 percent of residents live in counties that fail to meet federal standards for ozone pollution, the major component of smog. This excessive pollution is the cause of numerous “code red” or “code orange” air advisories. The Atlanta metropolitan area, for example, experienced 50 days under a “code orange” alert or worse between 2001 and 2005.

Georgia has 3,526 sites with permits to emit ozone pollution, and just 31 inspectors—one inspector for every 114 permitted polluting facilities.

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Illinois

New Report: 70 Percent of Illinois Residents Breathe Dangerous Levels of Smog

In Illinois, 70.3 percent of residents live in counties that fail to meet federal standards for ozone pollution, the major component of smog. This excessive pollution is the cause of numerous “code red” or “code orange” air advisories. The Chicago metropolitan area, for example, experienced 51 days under a “code orange” alert or worse between 2001 and 2005.

Illinois has 6,750 sites with permits to emit ozone pollution, and just 36 inspectors—one inspector for every 188 permitted polluting facilities.

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Michigan

New Report: 78 Percent of Michiganders Breathe Dangerous Levels of Smog

In Michigan, 78 percent of residents live in counties that fail to meet federal standards for ozone pollution, the major component of smog. This excessive pollution is the cause of numerous “code red” or “code orange” air advisories. The Detroit metropolitan area, for example, experienced 56 days under a “code orange” alert or worse between 2001 and 2005; Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland had 52.

Michigan has 4,366 sites with permits to emit ozone pollution, and just 70 inspectors—one inspector for every 62 permitted polluting facilities.

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New Jersey

New Report: 100 Percent of New Jerseyans Breathe Dangerous Levels of Smog

In New Jersey, every single county fails to meet federal standards for ozone pollution, the major component of smog. This excessive pollution is the cause of numerous “code red” or “code orange” air advisories. The Monmouth-Ocean metropolitan area, for example, experienced 88 days under a “code orange” alert or worse from 2001 to 2005; Newark had 47.

New Jersey has 5,775 sites with permits to emit ozone pollution, and just 42 inspectors—one inspector for every 138 permitted polluting facilities.

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New York

New Report: 85 Percent of New Yorkers Breathe Dangerous Levels of Smog

In New York, 85.2 percent of residents live in counties that fail to meet federal standards for ozone pollution, the major component of smog. This excessive pollution is the cause of numerous “code red” or “code orange” air advisories. The New York metropolitan area, for example, experienced 55 days under a “code orange” alert or worse between 2001 and 2005; Albany-Schenectady-Troy had 29; Buffalo-Niagara Falls had 46.

New York has 8,378 sites with permits to emit ozone pollution, and just 89 inspectors—one inspector for every 94 permitted polluting facilities.

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North Carolina

New Report: 61 Percent of North Carolinians Breathe Dangerous Levels of Smog

In North Carolina, 61 percent of residents live in counties that fail to meet federal standards for ozone pollution, the major component of smog. This excessive pollution is the cause of numerous “code red” or “code orange” air advisories. The Charlotte metropolitan area, for example, experienced 53 days under a “code orange” alert or worse between 2001 and 2005; Greensboro-Winston-Salem had 36; Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill had 28.

North Carolina has 3,406 sites with permits to emit ozone pollution, and just 111 inspectors—one inspector for every 31 permitted polluting facilities.

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Ohio

New Report: 78 Percent of Ohioans Breathe Dangerous Levels of Smog

In Ohio, 78 percent of residents live in counties that fail to meet federal standards for ozone pollution, the major component of smog. This excessive pollution is the cause of numerous “code red” or “code orange” air advisories. The Cleveland metropolitan area, for example, experienced 65 days under a “code orange” alert or worse between 2001 and 2005; Akron had 51; Dayton-Springfield had 41.

Ohio has 12,258 sites with permits to emit ozone pollution, and just 125 inspectors—one inspector for every 98 permitted polluting facilities.

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Pennsylvania

New Report: 88 Percent of Pennsylvanians Breathe Dangerous Levels of Smog

In Pennsylvania, 88 percent of residents live in counties that fail to meet federal standards for ozone pollution, the major component of smog. This excessive pollution is the cause of numerous “code red” or “code orange” air advisories. The Philadelphia metropolitan area, for example, experienced 102 days under a “code orange” alert or worse between 2001 and 2005; Pittsburgh had 54.

Pennsylvania has 2,620 sites with permits to emit ozone pollution, and just 81 inspectors—one inspector for every 32 permitted polluting facilities.

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Texas

New Report: 56 Percent of Texans Breathe Dangerous Levels of Smog

In Texas, 55.9 percent of residents live in counties that fail to meet federal standards for ozone pollution, the major component of smog. This excessive pollution is the cause of numerous “code red” or “code orange” air advisories. The Houston metropolitan area, for example, experienced 126 days under a “code orange” alert or worse between 2001 and 2005; Dallas had 44; Fort Worth-Arlington had 95.

Texas has 50,729 sites with permits to emit ozone pollution, and just 144 inspectors—one inspector for every 352 permitted polluting facilities.