Air Pollution and the Federal Budget

One of the big debates in Washington this week is what kind of agreement the House, Senate and White House will reach on the federal budget and the next spending bill.

And one of the big concerns of health, environmental and other groups is that members of Congress who want to prevent the EPA from reducing pollution will succeed in doing so by adding a “rider” to the budget deal.

But since so much of the budget debate focuses on reducing costs, let’s look at how air pollution and federal spending are connected. The report just released by Health Care Without Harm, the National Association of School Nurses and the Alliance of Nurses for Health Environments discusses the costs of asthma – one of the most commonly recognized health effects of air pollution – and who pays those costs.

asthma cost pie chart.png

According to the report,

“The total estimated incremental direct cost of asthma in the United States is more than $53 billion a year."

Who bears these costs? 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Medicare and Medicaid combined pay for 41.7% of the costs of asthma.


Wow. That’s over $22 billion a year.


It stands to reason that if you are concerned about the federal budget, perhaps the first step is to “do no harm.”

But harm is exactly what some members of congress will be doing – to our health as well as the federal budget – if they insist on preventing the EPA from updating badly-needed clean air safeguards to protect public health from carbon pollution.

As the report released earlier today makes clear:

“Legislation that would greatly reduce the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce these air pollutants under the Clean Air Act would prevent improvements in air quality – stopping reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide, fine particles, soot, and other pollutants – and would make it harder for children and adults with respiratory problems such as asthma to breathe.”

And as Brenda Afzal with Health Care Without Harm points out, when Congress talks about blocking the EPA,

“Congress is literally talking about taking the breath away from millions of American children and adults. Because they have a disease that is very susceptible to pollution, Americans with asthma provide members of Congress with 24 million compelling reasons for the EPA to be allowed to proceed with needed updates to federal Clean Air Act standards.”


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