All Americans should be able to breathe clean air. But pollution from power plants and vehicles puts the health of our nation’s children and families at risk. Ground-level ozone, the main component of smog, is one of the most harmful and one of the most pervasive air pollutants. According to the American Lung Association, nearly half of all Americans – 48 percent – still live in areas with unhealthy levels of smog pollution. Studies show that on days with high concentrations of smog pollution in the air, children and adults suffer more asthma attacks, increased respiratory difficulty, and reduced lung function. Exposure to smog pollution can exacerbate respiratory illness and even cause premature death. Sensitive populations including children,the elderly, and people with respiratory illness are particularly at risk of the adverse health effects of air pollution.
In 2005, leaders in 10 northeastern states took a decisive step against global warming and fossil fuel dependence by agreeing to create a system to limit emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants. Known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the system took full effect in 2009, becoming the first mandatory cap on global warming pollution implemented anywhere in the United States. Two and a half years later, RGGI has largely been a success.
Humanity is running out of time to stop the most dangerous impacts of global warming. Signs of global warming are appearing around the world—including in the United States—and the latest science suggests that future impacts are likely to occur sooner and be more severe than previously thought. By adopting a suite of clean energy policies at the local, state and federal levels, the United States could curb emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use by as much as 20 percent by 2020 and 34 percent by 2030 (compared with 2005 levels). These savings represent a significant down payment on the emission reductions America must achieve to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, and put the nation on a path to achieve further emission reductions in the years ahead.
Rapidly rising gas prices across the country are shining a spotlight on the dire consequences of America’s dependence on oil. Our continued use of oil puts our environment, our health, and our national security at risk, and with prices across the country exceeding $4 per gallon, it is putting an incredible burden on our economy and on American families. Whether we consider these prices at the pump, the scars left by the oil spill disaster in the Gulf, the billion dollars that we send overseas every day, or the nearly 2 billion metric tons of global warming pollution that our oil consumption pumps into the air each year, it has become clear that we must break our dependence on oil.
Mainers could cut oil and other fossil fuel use and reduce pollution through the deployment of off the shelf, cost-effective solar hot water technology. By taking advantage of this ready-to-go technology to produce hot water for homes and businesses, Maine could save more than 7 million gallons of oil and reduce global warming pollution by the equivalent of eliminating the pollution from 27,700 cars on Maine’s roads.
Environment Maine Research and Policy Center is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.