States Work To Ensure Everyone Has Access to Clean Air

June 5, 2019



NCEL Point of Contact


This year’s theme for World Environment Day is #BeatAirPollution. Air pollution is a major environmental and social justice facing every community. While polluted air can affect everyone, low-income communities are among the most impacted. There are countless studies that demonstrate the disproportionate impacts among income communities and their exposure to air pollution. 

Why Are Low-Income Populations Impacted The Most

There are many reasons why low-income populations are more impacted by air pollution. Two of the most prominent reasons include:

  • Pollution sources are more likely to be located closer to low-income communities – This could be due to housing market prices, the cost of land, or a lack of resources to push back and organize against polluting companies.
  • Low-income communities are predisposed to health risks – Often times low-income communities have less access to medical facilities and treatment, fresh food, and jobs in healthy environments.

What Are The Public Health Impacts of Air Pollution

The two main types of air pollution in the United States include ozone and particulate matter pollution. Ground level ozone is formed when pollutants from cars, power plants, or industrial facilities react with oxygen. The resulting pollutant is harmful to human health and can cause premature death, breathing problems, and cardiovascular disease. Particulate matter pollution is tiny particles such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke in the air. These particles can get into the lungs and bloodstream causing health risks such as increased asthma attacks, risk of cardiovascular disease, and premature to medical facilities and treatment, fresh food, and jobs in healthy environments.

States Are Taking Action

States are taking action to ensure everyone has access to clean air. These states have legislation working to improve communities’ air quality in a way that is equitable and just for all.  

The California Community Air Protection Program (CAPP) is designed to protect the communities most impacted by air pollution. It was established by AB617, which was sponsored by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia in 2017.
The program works on the community level to do air monitoring, enforcement, and establishing community-led emission reduction programs. This ensures that the pollutants of highest concern are prioritized. The program also provides grant funding to community-based organizations to provide funding for local air pollution reduction.
The Environmental Justice Agenda H.R. 0007 passed in 2019 and was sponsored by Representative Mary Flowers. The Resolution states that all people desire to live in safe neighborhoods, with access to public land, clean air, drinkable water, good health, and to be empowered through work. It outlines that low-income, minority, and environmental justice communities are impacted the most by air pollution.
The Resolution also creates an environmental justice agenda to: increase clean energy jobs, address gender inequities, and develop policies addressing the disproportionate impact of climate change on disadvantaged communities.
Michigan S.B.0060 was introduced by Senator Stephanie Chang in 2019. It would create the Air Quality Enforcement and Mitigation Fund from civil and administrative fines, and have the air quality enforcement funds directed towards the most impacted communities.
It also establishes the Air Quality Community Impact Grant Program. The grants would go to nonprofit entities, local health & environmental departments, and school districts with the goal of conducting health impact assessments, providing educational programs to better enforce regulations, and more.
Minnesota H.F. 167 bill was introduced in 2019 by Representative Fue Lee.
The bill states that if a regulated facility does not comply with hazardous waste/pollutant regulations and this pollution is deemed a public health hazard, the facility is required to implement or pay a third party to implement a “Supplemental Environmental Project” (in addition to a fine). A SEP is a project that benefits the environment or public health. The impacted community must be consulted have their voices heard in the process. The ensures that the supplemental project best suits the needs of the community.
The Clean Air Caucus was established by Representative Patrice Arent in 2014. The group is bipartisan and proposes pieces of legislation each year aimed at tackling air pollution in Utah.
In 2019, the group introduced 21 pieces of legislation and had 11 appropriation requests. Some group’s accomplishments for the year include securing historic levels of funding for projects to improve air quality, passing a voluntary wood burning conversion program, a pilot program to create UTA Free-Fare Days when the air quality is bad, and a bill that gives cities more power to enforce anti-idling ordinances.
The HEAL Act S.B. 5489/HB 2009 was sponsored by Senator Rebecca Saldana and Representative Kristine Reeves. The bill was introduced in 2019 and passed the House. While the overall bill did not pass, the task force was included in the state budget.
This task force is charged with developing recommendations for implementing environmental justice principles. This includes developing methods to consult with vulnerable populations, create/implement equity analyses, and prioritizing vulnerable communities.
The bill would improve health disparities through targeted investments in areas most impacted by pollution. It would direct eight key state agencies to target their work using an environmental health disparities map that launched in January.