The Air Gets Cleaner, While Environmental Politics Gets Dirtier

The way the administration’s environmental critics tell it, you can’t see your hand in front of your face anymore because of all the pollution Bush has allowed his big business buddies to emit.  That’s certainly the theme of every green activist group, Democratic presidential hopeful, and far too many environmental journalists.  But there is one big problem with this scenario—it’s the exact opposite of reality, according to a 2003 report by the Environmental Protection Agency.<?xml:namespace prefix = v ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml” /> <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /><?xml:namespace prefix = w ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:word” />

That the air is getting cleaner shouldn’t be a secret. Decades of EPA measurements show steady improvements, especially for the six so-called criteria pollutants—carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and lead.  EPA’s just-released National Air Quality and Emissions Trends Report concludes “since 1970, aggregate emissions of the six principal pollutants have been cut 48 percent.” And, unlike most green activists, these pollutants don’t seem to care which political party controls the White House.  EPA’s annual emissions numbers have declined under Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and the current president.

Overall, the positive trends show no signs of reversing thus far in Bush’s first term.  By several measures, the air is already better now than at any time under <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Clinton.

Bush can’t take credit for these improvements, which are due to provisions already in place or in the pipeline before he took office.  But he shouldn’t be blamed for making matters worse—as many critics have implied or said outright—because it simply is not so.

The air will continue to improve.  Many new measures are scheduled to take effect in the near future, such as the toughest-ever motor vehicle emissions standards beginning with model year 2004.  Indeed, your next new car or SUV may be as much as 90 percent cleaner than your current one.  As these vehicles penetrate the market over the next two decades, the pollution declines may even accelerate.  We hear a lot about Bush “rolling back” or even “gutting” our nation’s clean air protections, and we’ll hear a lot more as the 2004 elections draw near.  But we rarely see actual air quality measurements used to back up these claims.  Now you know why.