Cleaner Air Delivered by Cleaner Fuels
Posted April 27, 2020
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, and while the energy and transportation sectors currently face historic challenges, this environmental milestone is an important reminder that our nation has made significant progress in reducing emissions since 1970. Under the Clean Air Act, we’ve seen the development of cleaner fuels and engine efficiencies that have dramatically improved air quality.
America’s natural gas and oil industry is part of that progress. We’re committed to protecting the environment and improving air quality, while continuing to meet the world’s energy needs. This is an industry of problem solvers – scientists, skilled laborers, small business owners and manufacturers – who have researched operating impacts and monitored environmental performance for decades, contributing to industry-led innovations that have enabled a healthier and more sustainable future.
According to the EPA’s latest Air Trends Report, between 1970 and 2018, combined emissions from the six common pollutants declined by 74%, even as vehicle miles traveled and total U.S. energy consumption increased by almost 200% and 50%, respectively. As we’ve said, economic growth and environmental progress can occur together, and industry-developed technologies under Clean Air Act provisions continue to deliver these advances.
Concentrations of all criteria air pollutants have dropped significantly, and emissions from air toxins declined by 68% between 1990 and 2014, reducing the number of unhealthy air days and improving quality of life for many Americans.
Since 1970, the EPA has periodically reviewed, and as necessary modified, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The standards for particulate matter, for example, are now under review. The U.S. has reduced annual particulate matter concentrations by 39% since 2000, and common-sense policies that balance public health protections with American energy needs allow the industry to supply cleaner air and affordable, reliable fuels.
This month, we’re also honoring Earth Day by underscoring the industrywide investment in breakthrough technologies and lower-carbon fuels. Largely thanks to natural gas fuel switching in electricity generation, the U.S. has reduced carbon dioxide emissions more than any other nation since 2000 – emissions from the power sector declined 190 million metric tons in 2019 alone.
By establishing initiatives like the Environmental Partnership and the Texas Methane and Flaring Coalition the natural gas and oil industry is also demonstrating action-oriented, cost-effective approaches to reducing emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds. Collaborative efforts on environmental reporting and performance ensure that operators comply with state and federal regulations, and incentivize the development of techniques to yield healthier and cleaner air.
The natural gas and oil industry is proud of the downward trend in U.S. emissions and the growing use of cleaner-burning fuels, which resulted from smart policymaking and private sector innovation. Notably, the EPA report shows, among other advancements, that visibility has significantly improved in U.S. national parks and wilderness areas. So when the coronavirus pandemic is behind us, and Americans are able to opt outdoors again, we can expect to enjoy the scenic views and fresh air made possible by the Clean Air Act and 50 years of industry-driven environmental progress.
About The Author
Sam Winstel is a writer for the American Petroleum Institute. He comes to API from Edelman, where he supported communications marketing strategies for clients across the firm’s energy and federal government practices. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Sam graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina, and he currently resides in Washington, D.C.