Climate Change

Tackling Ozone Pollution in the Interior West

Dangerously high levels of ozone have plagued our region for decades. Recently, climate change has exacerbated the problem, putting communities’ health even further at risk. WRA is working across Western states to reduce emissions of this harmful pollutant and safeguard public health.

parent and child hiking

The risks of ozone pollution

The adverse health impacts of exposure to ozone are well known and obvious in everyday life. They can range from hearing your six-year-old neighbor wheezing and coughing while playing outside, to taking a run on a summer day with a trail companion who experiences an asthma attack, to learning a loved one is hospitalized for inflamed and damaged airways, with a high risk of respiratory infection.

In fact, there is no level of ozone pollution that is considered safe from a public health standpoint. It attacks the lungs and throat, and even short-term exposure can lead to shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing, asthma attacks, and lung damage. Long-term exposure increases risk of premature death in older adults, leads to more hospital admissions for children with asthma, and leads to low birth weight, stillbirth, and decreased lung function in newborns.

parent and child hiking

High levels of ozone are rampant across the Interior West

Unfortunately, right now, communities across our region are exposed to this dangerous pollutant, with low-income and BIPOC communities facing a disproportionate burden of ozone pollution. According to the American Lung Association’s 2021 State of the Air Report, 60% of the population of the Interior West lives in areas where ozone increases the risk of premature death, cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, and decreased lung function. Places subjected to these levels of pollution include some of the West’s most prominent cities: Denver, Colorado; Pheonix, Arizona; Las Vegas, NV; and Salt Lake City, Utah.

In many of these areas, ozone pollution is so bad that states must respond to the Environmental Protection Agency with plans to reduce air pollution sufficiently to meet federal health-based standards. However, these plans are often not rigorous enough and residents continue to be exposed to unhealthy levels of ozone. That’s why WRA’s state-based solutions and advocacy are vital to cleaning up our air.

grand staircase

How can we clean up our air from ozone pollution?

Due to climate change and rising temperatures, ozone pollution will continue to worsen if we do not act now. It’s essential that we take steps to reduce ozone emissions before it’s too late. Here are just a few ways WRA is doing just that:

1. Advancing electric vehicles across the West.

WRA is working to accelerate the West’s transition to electric vehicles by promoting the adoption of Clean Car Standards and Advanced Clean Truck Rules across the West, as well as working with electric utilities to adopt and implement transportation electrification plans.

Getting more electric vehicles on the road would have huge air quality benefits. While gasoline-powered vehicles pollute our air, EVs have zero tailpipe emissions. This air pollution hurts low-income individuals and communities of color the hardest, as discriminatory housing policies have put their homes near highways and industrial areas that have higher concentrations of these harmful emissions.

2. Ensuring states are accountable for improving air quality.

In 2022, WRA advocated for the EPA to hold states – and, in particular, Utah – accountable for improving ozone levels. We supported their proposed decision to give the Northern Wasatch Front the status of a moderate nonattainment area for regularly failing to meet the federal health-based standard for ozone pollution. This new status would mean Utah would have to reduce emissions that lead to high levels of ozone pollution. If this decision becomes final, it will set a crucial precedent across the West, sending a clear message that states must act to reduce dangerous air pollutants.

3. Passing state-level legislation to reduce ozone levels.

WRA’s government affairs team is advocating for state legislatures to take action on air pollution. State-level policies can have a major impact on cleaning up local air quality, including reducing ozone levels. For example, in Colorado in 2022, WRA Supported Senate Bill 22-180, which will allocate $28 million to allow Coloradans free bus and train rides in August 2022 and 2023 – the time of year when ozone is typically at its highest levels. This bill aims to encourage people to try transit and reduce air pollution from vehicles.

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