California has some of the strictest environmental protection regulations in the United States. However, cities in California consistently rank as some of the most polluted cities in the country. These two facts seem to contradict each other. But as anyone who lives in the golden state knows, the current state of California’s awful air quality pales in comparison to pollution levels seen just decades ago in the 1990s.
California has certainly made headway in the fight against air pollution. But even so, many of its residents still live in unhealthy air conditions. In a recent report, the American Lung Association named the ten most polluted U.S. cities. Eight places on their list were Californian cities.
The continued issue with air pollution in California causes many people to wonder if the state even has a chance of solving its problems, and if so, how they might do it. One thing is clear — California must find a solution to its air pollution problems before conditions grow even worse.
Why is California’s air so bad?
To understand how California aims to tackle its air pollution problems, it’s first necessary to know how California’s air get so polluted in the first place. The state’s unique position means it produces more air pollution and struggles to get rid of it compared to other states.
California’s dense population accounts for part of its struggles. It’s the most populous state in the country and has been since the 1970s. In fact, about one out of every 30 Americans lives in Los Angeles County. That’s more than three percent of the country’s entire population in one county alone.
California’s high population means more people burning fossil fuels and more pollution entering the air. It’s no surprise that driving is the main culprit of California’s pollution problems — 84 percent of the state’s ozone-forming emissions come from vehicles.
In addition to high population and car use, natural conditions also affect California’s air quality. Wildfires, increased temperatures and natural topography all allow ozone and other pollution to form and linger in and around Californian valley cities.
Though California’s government can’t easily change the natural conditions that make the state susceptible to air pollution, it can tackle pollution caused by humans, which is what state officials are trying to do now.
How can California combat air pollution?
California aims to tackle air pollution in several ways. Perhaps most significantly, the government has worked to reduce car emissions by implementing high fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles, investing in electric car infrastructure and encouraging the use of renewable energy sources. The state even ambitiously aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030.
California is proud of its strict regulation of greenhouse gas emissions — it is the only state allowed to set its own rules for vehicle emissions in the country. Tight regulations help California keep its air pollution in check, and they’re set to further improve the state of things as innovation continues to advance these sustainable goals.
However, new federal decisions may steer California off track. In April 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced intentions to roll back clean car standards set by the Obama administration in 2012. Additionally, the EPA said it was reconsidering the waiver that allows California to set its own, stricter clean-air standards.
The EPA announcements rightfully riled up California officials, who have been working through policy to reduce air pollution. Rolling back existing standards and revoking California’s waiver would result in worse air conditions with little opportunity for recourse. In response to the EPA, California and 17 other states filed a lawsuit in hopes of stopping changes to existing laws. The result of this lawsuit will largely determine how California proceeds with its air pollution problem.
What can people do to help?
As California legislators work to improve air quality and protect environmental regulations, Californians can also help prevent pollution and takes steps to protect themselves from smog.
Citizens looking to reduce their own emissions should find opportunities to carpool, use public transportation, travel by bike or by foot and save power. Additionally, they may want to monitor ozone and particle levels in the air and wear masks when outside during dangerous levels of air pollution.
California’s air isn’t as bad as it was. But that might change should the EPA have its way. Defending environmental protection laws and supporting clean energy and transportation are essential to ensuring California’s continued progress.
This is a guest post written by Kate Harveston.
Kate Harveston is a freelance writer and blogger. Her writing focuses on politics and the environment, with a particular emphasis on social change. You can follow her writing by visiting her blog, So Well, So Woman.