Air pollution plummets as energy use climbs

Feb. 1, 2002
A new analysis of federal government data collected since 1970 reveals dramatic United States air quality improvements even as the nation experienced

A new analysis of federal government data collected since 1970 reveals dramatic United States air quality improvements even as the nation experienced an equally dramatic rise in energy consumption. “The data illustrate that energy consumption is not incompatible with America's quest to improve its air quality,” said William D Fay, president of the Foundation for Clean Air Progress (FCAP).

The study, titled Breathing Easier about Energy: A Healthy Economy and Healthier Air, was produced by Energy and Environmental Analysis Inc (EEA) for FCAP, a non-profit, organization providing information about air quality progress.

The analysis tracks air quality gains and energy consumption from 1970 through 1999. It is derived solely from data produced by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Energy Information Administration (ETA) of the US Department of Energy. The nationwide data show that since 1970:

  • Carbon monoxide levels have dropped 28%.
  • Sulfur dioxide levels have decreased 39%.
  • Volatile organic compound levels have declined 42%.
  • Particulate matter levels have fallen 75%.
  • Airborne lead levels have declined 98%.
  • Overall energy consumption has increased 41%. By sectors, commercial energy consumption grew 80%, transportation energy 64%, residential energy 34%, and industrial energy consumption 21%.

The only pollutant that increased overall during the 30-year period was nitrogen oxide (NOx), which rose 22% — about one-half the rate of energy consumption.

The study's state-by-state analysis tracks air quality and energy consumption during the 15-year period of 1985 to 1999. Data were drawn from the National Emission Trends database, available on EPA's AIRData web site at www.epa.gov/air/data/.

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