Our state’s continued dependence on fossil fuels jeopardizes Arizona’s health and climate today and will continue to do so into the future – unless we act now.
Once again, we see Arizona communities ranked among the most polluted in the United States. The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” 2022 report puts a fine point on this – Pinal County is one of just a handful of communities in the United States to earn failing grades for ozone, short-term and annual particle pollution levels. In fact, Pinal County is considered the 18th most polluted county in the U.S. for annual particle pollution levels.
Phoenix, the largest and most populated metro area, faces even greater challenges with air quality. Although this year’s report found fewer days of unhealthy ozone, Phoenix saw increases in both short-term and annual particle pollution levels. It remains one of the most polluted cities in the U.S., ranking as the fifth smoggiest city, and eighth most polluted in terms of year-round soot, nestled between California cities on each list.
Exposure to air pollution causes respiratory issues such as lung inflammation, chest tightness, and severe asthma attacks. It also contributes to cardiovascular harm including heart attacks, strokes and, in extreme cases, premature death. While poor air quality is dangerous for all, it disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, low-income individuals, and people of color. Nationally, people of color are 3.6 times more likely to live in a county with failing air quality for ozone, short-term and annual particle pollution than white people.
People living near major transportation hubs and electricity generating power plants are at even greater risk. This is especially true for residents of Randolph in Pinal County, which is home to some of the most polluted air in the United States. This is why the Arizona Corporation Commission’s decision to deny
expansion of fossil fuel combustion at the Coolidge Generating Plant was a necessary step to avoid adding yet more emissions in Pinal County. This decision should send a clear message to utilities and state leaders: we must transition away from fossil fuels and invest in renewable, non-combustion energy today.
Last month, another report by the Lung Association, “Zeroing in on Healthy Air,” illustrated the potential health and climate benefits if we were to transition to a zero-emission transportation sector and shift to clean, renewable energy. Acting now could result in $15.1 billion in public health benefits in Arizona over the coming decades – this includes 1,360 avoided deaths, 38,500 avoided asthma attacks, and 32,300 avoided lost workdays. Moreover, some of the most impacted communities can reap the greatest health benefits. The report looked at the 100 U.S. counties with the highest percentage populations of people of color, approximately $155 billion in health benefits are projected – and swift action will benefit all Americans.
The more we delay investments in transportation electrification and renewable energy, the more health savings we leave on the table. Delays are something Arizona cannot afford, and something Arizonans do not want.
Last year, a poll of Arizona voters revealed 75% of voters support shifting investments away from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas and toward clean, non-combustion energy sources and technologies like wind, solar and zero-emission vehicles. The research is clear, and voters have spoken – we must act on our climate crisis and make bold investments in zero-emission technologies to protect the health of all Arizonans. Our health and well-being depend on a rapid transition to zero emission technologies, especially in communities like Pinal County which faces some of the worst air pollution in the United States.
JoAnna Strother is senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Arizona.
Will Humble is executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former director for the Arizona Department of Health Services.No tags for this post.