EPA: Clean Air Act Saves Millions of Lives and Trillions of Dollars

With all the EPA-bashing these days by some in Congress, it's nice to remind everyone that the Clean Air Act is actually good for us. It just so happens that the agency issued a new study today touting the many health benefits of this landmark law.

According to EPA, in 2010 alone the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than: 160,000 cases of early death; 130,000 heart attacks; 1.7 million asthma attacks; and 13 million lost work days. Things will get even better in 2020, as the agency estimates that in that year alone the Clean Air Act will save the lives of 230,000 Americans while preventing 200,000 heart attacks, 2.4 million asthma attacks, and 17 million lost work days.

NRDC's own analysis of the agency's data reveals even more staggering health gains, showing that more than 2.2 million lives will be saved between 2010 and 2020 thanks to reductions in air pollution achieved by amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990. But wait, the news gets even better. According to my colleague Christina Angelides, NRDC's analysis of EPA's report shows that the 1990 amendments will have saved 4.2 million lives and avoided millions of cases of pollution-related illness by 2020--including 43.8 million cases of asthma exacerbation, 3.3 million heart attacks, 2.1 million hospital admissions and 2.2 million emergency room visits, and 313 million lost work days.

Further analysis by NRDC economist Laurie Johnson finds the benefits of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act exceeding costs by a ratio of 26 to 1 in 2010, and 30 to 1 in 2020. She breaks it down like this:

  • In 2010 alone, we gained approximately1.3 trillion in public health and environmental benefits, for a cost of only 50 billion. That's a value worth more than 9% of GDP, for a cost of only .4% of GDP. For comparison, we spent approximately 5% of our GDP on the Defense budget in 2010.
  • The ratio of benefits to costs in 2010 is more than 26 to 1.
  • In 2020, we will have a staggering gain of approximately2 trillion in benefits, at a cost of65 billion. That's a value worth more than 14% of today's GDP, for an expenditure of only .46%. The ratio of benefits to cost is more than 30 to 1.

Remember, that's just the health and environmental benefits. Johnson presents further evidence on the law's substantial improvements in economic performance as well.

So, there you have it. Those in Congress who are reckless enough to attack one of our nation's most successful and beneficial health laws ought to choose the facts over fiction. More to the point, they have a responsibility as public servants to put public health above their short-sighted and literally harmful political goals, which ultimately benefit no one except corporate polluters that profit by putting the rest of us at risk.