Passing Climate Bills Will Help Clear Up California’s Smog

A blanket of smog covers Los Angeles
Credit: LA Times

If California lawmakers are looking for yet another reason to pass Senate Bill 32 (Pavley) and Assembly Bill 197 (E. Garcia), which would reduce climate-changing pollution to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and put new emphasis on measures that protect public health, they need only breathe in the dirty air plaguing the South Coast air basin.

As one local resident recently told the LA Times, “the air is so thick you can almost taste it.”

Southern California, already among the smoggiest regions in the country, is experiencing its worst smog in years, driving more people to seek medical treatment for respiratory ailments.

As of August 10, ozone levels have exceeded federal health standards 93 days this year according to the regional air quality regulator, compared to 69 days for the same period a year ago.

The unhealthy air underscores the urgency for the Legislature to pass SB 32 and AB 197 before the legislative session ends Aug. 31.

SB 32 and AB 197 build on the success of the state’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, which set a target of reducing climate-warming pollutants to 1990 levels by 2020. California is on track to meet and exceed the 2020 target but the state needs to act now to establish a new benchmark and implementing criteria that will drive further public health improvements by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

The legislative package is under heavy assault from the oil industry, even though it enjoys widespread support, including the backing of businesses. Yet if state lawmakers need any further reason to pass the legislation, they only need step outside in the Inland Empire to see how California’s persistent smog problem is exacerbated by climate change.

Connecting the Dots

Carbon pollution contributes to a warming climate, enhancing conditions for lung-searing ozone formation that worsens asthma symptoms and other health problems. That’s the toxic combination ravaging Southern California, forcing many residents – particularly children and the elderly – to stay indoors.

Climate change also leads to more soot from wildfires that burn hotter and more frequently, fueled by drought that leaves forests like tinderboxes.

And despite progress made in cleaning up the air, many Californians still live in areas that have unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association’s 2016 State of the Air report.

The Los Angeles area suffers from the worst ozone pollution in the nation, while the Bakersfield area was the most polluted area for particle pollution.

That’s why health groups ranging from the American Lung Association in California, American Academy of Pediatrics-California, and American Heart Association, California, have come out in support of SB 32 and AB 197.

They know that reducing carbon pollution will reduce other harmful pollutants, preventing deaths and illnesses and saving billions in health care costs and lost productivity.

For Californians to breathe easy, state lawmakers should act now and pass SB 32 and AB 197.