WASHINGTON — A new report from the American Lung Association comes with a clear warning for the Trump administration and Congress: Continue America’s fight against pollution or jeopardize public health. 

On Wednesday, the ALA released its 18th annual “State of the Air” report, which found there’s been a “major improvement” in the nation’s overall air quality, crediting it to the success of the Clean Air Act in controlling pollution. Despite continued progress, however, a number of cities saw dangerous spikes in short-term particle pollution affected by climate change.

Roughly 125 million Americans — nearly 4 in 10 — continue to live in areas with dangerously high levels of pollution.

“This is simply unacceptable,” Harold Wimmer, ALA’s national president and CEO, said in a statement. “Everyone has a fundamental right to breathe healthy air. Our nation’s leaders must do more to protect the health of all Americans.”

The report, which covers data collected from 2013 to 2015, measures both particle pollution ― the tiny solid and liquid particles found in the air ― and ozone pollution, which is created when emissions from cars, power plants and other sources are exposed to sunlight. These widespread pollutants are associated with early death and a host of health problems, including cancer, asthma and developmental, reproductive and cardiovascular harm.

Along with providing a comprehensive look at the air Americans breathe, the 2017 report urges President Donald Trump, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt and certain congressional lawmakers — who have acted quickly to roll back a number of key environmental protections — to support efforts to improve air quality, including fighting climate change by reducing carbon emissions from power plants.

Of course, that message may fall on deaf ears. Trump, Pruitt and many Republican lawmakers have denied the science of climate change. And late last month, surrounded by coal miners, the president signed an executive order to undo much of what his predecessor had done to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

Fred Prouser / Reuters

Los Angeles’ air quality improved over the last year but it continues to have the nation’s worst ozone pollution.

The new “report card” finds 125 million people, 39 percent of the population, live in 204 counties where they are exposed to high levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Although shocking, that’s roughly 25 percent fewer people than during the three-year cycle covered by last year’s report. (The 2016 report found 52 percent of the population, or 166 million Americans, were living in the 418 counties where they’re exposed to unhealthy levels.)

Janice Nolen, ALA’s vice president for national policy, told The Huffington Post that part of the decline is because 2012, a year with particularly high levels of pollution, is no longer in the three-year cycle covered by the report. But that’s not to downplay the continued improvement in air quality happening around the country. 

“One of the great things about doing this report for 18 years is we’ve seen the progress, especially in ozone,” Nolen said.

Twenty of the 25 cities with the worst ozone pollution saw a reduction in the number of high-ozone days, according to the findings. Furthermore, 15 of the top 25 cities most polluted by year-long particle pollution saw reduced levels. 

For short-term particle pollution, however, 15 of the 25 most-polluted cities tallied more days with spiked levels, a finding Nolen called concerning. Short-term particle pollution results from weather events like drought and wildfires, often made worse by climate change.

More than 18 million people live with unhealthy levels of all three — down roughly 10 percent from last year’s report. 

“The ‘State of the Air 2017’ report adds to the evidence that a changing climate [is] making it harder to protect human health,” the report reads. 

Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters

Vehicles travel on a road in Bakersfield, California during a day of poor air quality in 2014. Bakersfield ranks No. 1 for the worst short-term particle pollution.

As has been the case in recent years, California dominated all three Top 10 lists for pollution.

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Short-Term Particle Pollution:

  1. Bakersfield, California
  2. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, California
  3. Fresno-Madera, California
  4. Modesto-Merced, California
  5. Fairbanks, Alabama
  6. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California
  7. Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, Utah
  8. Logan, Utah-Idaho
  9. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
  10. Reno-Carson City-Fernley, Nevada

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution: 

  1. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, California
  2. Bakersfield, California
  3. Fresno-Madera, California
  4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California
  5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
  6. Modesto-Merced, California
  7. El Centro, California
  8. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania/New Castle, Ohio/Weirton, West Virginia
  9. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, Ohio
  10. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, California

Top 10 Most Ozone-Polluted Cities:

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
  2. Bakersfield, California
  3. Fresno-Madera, California
  4. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, California
  5. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Arizona
  6. Modesto-Merced, California
  7. San Diego-Carlsbad, California
  8. Sacramento-Roseville, California
  9. New York-Newark, N.Y.–N.J.-Conn.-Pa.
  10. Las Vegas, Nevada/Henderson, Arizona

Six U.S. cities recorded not a single day of unhealthy ozone or particle pollution, earning a spot on the report’s list of cleanest U.S. cities. 

Top Cleanest U.S. Cities (listed in alphabetical order):

  1. Burlington-South Burlington, Vermont
  2. Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, Florida
  3. Elmira-Corning, New York
  4. Honolulu, Hawaii
  5. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida
  6. Wilmington, North Carolina

Nolen told HuffPost there’s been a shift in where the worst pollution problems are occurring. As actions have been taken to clean up coal-fired power plants and reduce vehicle emissions, air quality in the eastern half of the United States has largely improved, with a number of cities falling down, or even off, the list. In contrast, states in the West, plagued by wildfire smoke, have tallied worse air quality grades. 

“We are concerned when we see steps by the [Trump] administration, for example, to try to weaken or roll back steps to reduce emissions from oil and gas,” Nolen said, adding that those tools are needed “to reduce the pollution that’s coming from some of the sources that still continue.” 

The larger message for the Trump administration, Nolen added, is the Clean Air Act is working to improve air quality.

“We want to make sure the administration knows that and understands that,” she said. “It is crucial that we have the Clean Air Act in place — working strong and enforced and funded — in order to make it happen.”

The ALA report urges Trump, Pruitt and other government leaders to “stand up for public health.” It also takes issue with a number of the administration’s actions, including rolling back the Clean Power Plan and a proposed 31 percent cut to the EPA’s budget, and vows to fight for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

Much like his boss, Pruitt is no environmental steward. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times, including to overturn rules limiting air pollution from power plants. 

Last week, during a visit to a Pennsylvania coal mine that was recently fined for violating environmental laws, Pruitt dismissed concerns from environmentalists who he said think that in a push to increase coal, oil and gas production, he and others are “compromising outcomes with respect to our environment.” 

“Let’s look and think what the past administration achieved,” he said. “Almost 140 million people in this country live in non-compliance right now with respect to air quality.” 

“We’re going to improve the environment in this country, protect our water, protect our air, but at the same time do it the American way — grow jobs, and show the world we can achieve it,” he added.

Of course, what Pruitt fails to recognize is that were it not for the Clean Air Act and other regulations, many more Americans would be breathing filthy air. 

View the full 2017 “State of the Air” report here. 

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