Air Quality Policy
The Georgia Conservancy will educate Georgians about the importance of clean air and advocateprograms, resources, and policies that will result in clean air for all Georgians to enjoy.
Air pollution is much less visible than water pollution and often goes unnoticed outside of “code red” days in summer. While public awareness about smog, its causes and appropriate precautions on smog alert days is growing, many Georgians still know little about the quality of the air that they breathe or how it affects their health.
Regulation prompted by the Clean Act Air has led to progressively tighter smokestack controls and cleaner fuels, resulting in steady improvements in air quality over the past 30 years. At the same time, with a growing number of comprehensive, long-term studies recently completed, it has become clear that even low levels of pollution—lower than current federal standards—can harm both healthy and sensitive individuals.
It is also clear that policies and actions outside the scope of the Clean Air Act, such as heavy investment in roads as compared with transit, bicycle lanes and sidewalks, and poorly planned growth that encourages sprawl, make achieving further air quality improvements a real challenge.
Transportation and power generation are the largest sources of ozone and fine particle pollution—and also the biggest sources of greenhouse gases linked to climate change. In addition to boosting already unhealthy ozone levels, public health scientists are concerned that climate change may increase the incidence of illnesses spread by insects as well as threaten Georgia’s coastline as the sea level rises. Reducing tailpipe and smokestack emissions both improves air quality and reduces Georgia’s contribution to climate change.
Emissions from cars and trucks and from coal-fired power plants contain additional compounds harmful to human health. Particles in car and truck exhaust are coated with cancer-causing heavy metals and power plants are the leading source of mercury pollution. Air-borne mercury transforms into a potent neurotoxin in Georgia’s waterways, making fish unsafe to eat.
With fuel prices rising, Georgians are demonstrating greater interest in alternatives to car travel and are taking steps to reduce energy consumption at home. We need sound policies that provide Georgians with more options—clean energy production as an option when choosing an energy provider, and efficient public transit, bike lanes and sidewalks as viable and safe alternatives to car travel.
The Georgia Conservancy envisions a future in which every county meets federal health-based air quality standards for all pollutants and where decisions are shaped by forward-thinking policies that promote clean energy production and energy efficiency, the development and use of clean and efficient transportation alternatives and the best available stationary and mobile source pollution controls.
The following principles are the foundation of the Georgia Conservancy’s air quality work:
- All Georgians have a right to breathe air that is not harmful to their health. Federal air quality standards should be set at levels that reflect the Clean Air Act requirement to protect the health of all individuals, including those most sensitive, with an adequate margin of safety.
- Continued scientific research on the health effects of air pollution is critical to clean air advocacy as well as public education efforts.
- Meeting and even exceeding federal standards for clean air should guide transportation and energy planning efforts by state and local agencies. Transportation planning should be fully integrated with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s (EPD’s) State Implementation Plan (SIP) processes.
- State-level planning for air quality improvement should include a long-term vision and goals as well as the short-term federally-mandated SIP process. This change in approach will require the allocation of greater resources for Georgia EPD and other agencies to invest in longer-term, as well as short-term, strategies to reduce emissions that go beyond federal requirements.
- Georgians should seek to reduce their personal contributions to air pollution by conserving energy and reducing automobile emissions (by selecting the most fuel efficient and lowest emission vehicle that meets their needs and using transit and other commute alternatives) whenever possible.
The following positions guide our air program and inform our air quality education and advocacy work:
- Individuals, businesses and industry, and government all have a role to play in improving Georgia’s air quality.
- Further reductions in emissions that contribute to air pollution will require a wide range of strategies, some of which may produce only very small reductions on their own. All measures are part of the solution and should be considered, no matter how small.
- Georgia should invest in and develop programs that educate individuals and organizations about ways to reduce emissions from the biggest contributors (traffic, coal-fired power plants, diesel equipment and industry) both on an individual level and through policy change.
- Georgia’s transportation system should be linked with land use planning and offer diverse options so that Georgians can reduce their reliance on automobiles. Georgia should move quickly to fully implement the state-wide passenger rail vision and the Concept 3 public transportation vision for metro Atlanta.
- Georgia’s state agencies and municipalities should work together to develop and implement a state-wide effort to reduce harmful diesel emissions through a combination of federally-funded voluntary emissions reduction projects and state and local rules and ordinances.