It has been about three years since Volkswagen settled with federal authorities for cheating emissions laws in hundreds of thousands of vehicles advertised as “clean diesel.” The settlement included billions of dollars to buy back the offending vehicles from consumers, as well as nearly $3 billion for the Environmental Mitigation Trust, to be distributed to every state and territory where offending vehicles were sold. The Environmental Mitigation Trust funds are designed to be used for transportation projects that reduce pollution in an effort to mitigate the harm done by Volkswagen through their emissions cheating.
Allegheny County is a great place to live―but air pollution is threatening residents' health. Sadly, our region has some of the worst air in the country. Allegheny County is in the worst 2% of the U.S. for cancer risk from air pollution and kids in some area schools suffer from asthma more than twice as often as state and national averages.
Allegheny County has a long legacy of industrial air pollution. But while Pittsburgh is not the “Smoky City” of generations past, industrial air pollution still inflicts immense damage on the health of Allegheny County residents.
The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) is primarily responsible for protecting the people of Allegheny County from health-threatening air pollution. ACHD has been delegated authority to enforce the provisions of the federal Clean Air Act as well as local air pollution laws.
Yet for decades, some of Allegheny County’s biggest industrial facilities have continued to release excessive amounts of pollution into the air and to violate the terms of their emissions permits. Time and again, ACHD has acted slowly in response to air pollution complaints, relied on often-violated agreements negotiated with industrial facilities, failed to issue required air pollution permits on time, and failed to establish a credible threat of tough enforcement that would incentivize polluters to act more quickly to protect public health
The Clean Water Act, adopted in 1972 with overwhelming bi-partisan support, had the farsighted and righteous goal of making all our waterways safe for swimming. Yet 46 years later, all too often, Americans visiting their favorite beach are met by an advisory warning that the water is unsafe for swimming. Even worse, in recent years millions of Americans have been sickened by swimming in contaminated water.
An analysis of bacteria sampling data from beaches in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states and Puerto Rico reveals that 2,580 beach sites – more than half of all sites tested – were potentially unsafe for swimming on at least one day in 2018, and 546 sites were potentially unsafe at least 25 percent of the days that sampling took place. Sites were considered potentially unsafe if bacteria levels exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s most protective “Beach Action Value” thresholds, which the EPA suggests states use as a “conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions,” and are associated with an estimated illness rate of 32 per 1,000 swimmers. (Many states use other thresholds for beach closure and advisory decisions. Therefore, results presented in this report may differ from state reports on beach water quality.) (See Methodology for details.)
New governors are getting ready to take office in 20 states, from Florida to Alaska. As America’s newly elected governors prepare to take on their states’ biggest challenges, they should prioritize taking bold action on the greatest challenge of our time: climate change.
PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.