The war on smog has been called one of America’s greatest environmental successes. Decades of emissions-cutting regulations under a bipartisan law — the 1970 Clean Air Act — have eased the choking pollution that once shrouded U.S. cities. Cleaner air has saved lives and strengthened the lungs of Los Angeles children.
But now, air quality is slipping once again.
Health effects from ozone pollution have remained essentially unchanged over the last decade — “stubbornly high,” according to a study published this year by scientists at New York University and the American Thoracic Society.
Nowhere is the situation worse than in Southern California, where researchers found a 10% increase in deaths attributable to ozone pollution from 2010 to 2017. The region has long reigned as the nation’s smog capital and has seen a resurgence of dirty air in the last few years, one that has sharpened the divide between wealthier coastal enclaves with cleaner air and lower-income communities farther inland with smoggy air.
By the end of this year, California regulators must present the federal government with a plan demonstrating they are on track to slash ozone pollution. Officials say it will take billions in spending to meet smog-reduction deadlines under the Clean Air Act. But no one knows where the money will come from.