The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to release its latest air quality forecast later this month, and it’s expected to reveal new national air quality goals and new guidelines for the country’s most populous state.
But as it stands, air quality in some parts of the country is already on a long, dark slide.
The US’s average daily reading of fine particles has dropped by nearly 50 percent since 2013, according to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
That means pollution levels in some of the nation’s most densely populated areas have fallen by as much as 40 percent.
That’s a problem for businesses and homes, and even more so for people with asthma, a condition that can cause severe lung problems and even death.
That decline in air quality has already led to some dramatic changes to air travel, including the closure of a number of major airports.
In the past two years alone, dozens of airlines have shuttered or postponed some flights, while others have closed down altogether.
The closures are also making it harder to stay in the US.
Bloomberg recently reported that US Airways and United Airlines have been forced to cancel more than 100,000 flights over the past three years.
In 2015, the federal government passed the Clean Air Act, which mandates stricter pollution limits and increased fines for companies that don’t meet those targets.
That law now covers more than 70 percent of the United States.
But even as the Clean Energy and Sustainable Energy Incentives Program—which helps states and localities buy clean power from renewable sources—is expanding, the US has still only reached a quarter of its goal to reduce its emissions by 2020.
That hasn’t stopped some residents from fighting back against the government’s efforts to clean up the air.
In April, residents of a Texas suburb sued the agency for forcing them to pay for the removal of toxic coal ash from their streets, and the state has agreed to a settlement.
In addition, a growing number of cities and counties are seeking to ban the sale of plastic bottles containing hazardous chemicals.
And some lawmakers in states like Tennessee and Alabama are calling for a moratorium on new drilling for oil and gas.
The Environmental Protection Administration is still reviewing air quality data from the US for the first time in more than 20 years, and its findings will likely change over time, said Mark Jaffe, a senior scientist at the University of California, Davis, who was involved in the work for the Bloomberg New Environment Foundation.
In the meantime, many residents are trying to get more comfortable with the new guidelines.
In July, a Pennsylvania man who had lived in the state for a decade sued to block the state’s new air quality guidelines, claiming that the changes were discriminatory.
In a court filing, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said that the new air standards don’t require the state to use any of the toxic materials that are already in the air—such as coal ash—and instead instead require that it consider the “quality of the air as measured by the particle size and particle density, as well as the quantity and concentration of the contaminants that are present in the environment.”
It’s unclear whether Pennsylvania’s new guidelines will be adopted by all states, and some of those that haven’t are still working to comply with the Clean Power Plan, a sweeping national effort to reduce pollution from the power sector.