Air pollution continues to pose a serious threat to the health of people in Maine, and particularly children.
While the Clean Air Act has helped to improve air quality, nearly 140 million people, about 44 percent of the country, live in places where pollution levels often make breathing dangerous.
The American Lung Association’s 2015 State of the Air report, which analyzes air quality data nationally, found that air quality in York County dropped from a D to an F.
That’s unacceptable, and it puts too many Maine people at risk.
One of the most important and practical ways to improve air quality is to reduce carbon and other emissions from power plants and diversify our sources of electricity to include more clean, renewable alternatives.
We must move more rapidly toward an energy future that generates more power from sources such as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal.
This year, the Maine Renewable Energy Association and Sustainable Energy Advantage conducted a detailed analysis of the impact wind power is having on Maine’s air quality.
The scientifically sound study found that wind power in Maine reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 490,000 tons in 2013. That’s equal to removing 94,000 automobiles from Maine roads.
In addition, the study found that in just five years, that number will grow by more than four times. By 2020, wind in Maine will reduce emissions equivalent to taking 400,000 cars and trucks off the road.
In addition to carbon reduction, there are significant declines in nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides, both serious air pollutants.
The evidence is overwhelming. Maine’s development of wind power is improving air quality.
Wind farms are helping to protect public health, particularly our vulnerable populations of the elderly, the young, and those with respiratory issues, like asthma.
Maine has some of the highest rates of asthma in the country. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 10 percent of Mainers suffer from asthma, compared with just 7.8 percent nationally. Children and the state’s non-white populations are at an even higher risk.
In 2009 there were approximately 2.1 million emergency room visits in the U.S. attributed to asthma, and in 2008 asthma accounted for about 14 million lost work days for adults.
The annual direct health care costs are $50.1 billion, and when lost productivity is included, the number increases to $56 billion.
Such a high incidence rate of asthma and the terrible costs make it critical that our state remains committed to clean air and to sources of energy that don’t increase air pollution.
By reducing the amount of pollution from burning of fossil fuels for electrical generation, we can reduce preventable health care spending and help Maine people breathe easier.
We need to aggressively continue the transition to a cleaner energy future and continue the progress toward healthier air that began in 1970 with the Clean Air Act.
In addition to more renewable resources, we must strengthen the country’s outdated ozone standard, crack down on carbon and other pollution from power plants and make sure that the standards in the Clean Air Act remain current and are enforced.
Our health, our environment and our economy are all connected. When we allow our air to be polluted, we are hurting all three.
Maine policymakers have a choice to make. They can support a healthier, more vibrant Maine, or they can allow our state to continue our dependency on fossil fuels that undermine our quality of life.
For the Lung Association, the choice seems clear — as clear as our air should be every day.
Edward Miller is senior vice president for public policy at the American Lung Association of the Northeast in Augusta.