The Trump administration moved back a U.S. climate change and energy policy called the Clean Power Plan in June 2019. The policy, first ordained in 2015, meant to limit power plants’ carbon emissions. In addition to the potential influences on climate change, researchers recording October 25 in the journal One Earth find that relaxing U.S. energy guidelines would worsen air quality by increasing emissions of health-degrading ozone. Their research advises that with the mixture of loosened protocols and a warming climate, 22 more U.S. counties would fail to encounter the current ozone safety norm in 2050.
“Past research has concentrated mostly on the link between energy policies and greenhouse gas emissions,” states first author Huizhong Shen of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “Through our study, we hope to point out the influence of energy policies on air quality, which tends to be ignored.”
Unlike ozone in the upper atmosphere, which guards the Earth against space radiation, ground-level ozone is damaging to animals, plants, and humans at high concentrations. It can harm our respiratory functions and decrease crop yields. In the past few decades, guidelines have prompted significant decreases in ground-level ozone. Still, it remains one of the most challenging air pollutants to cope with.
Ozone is formed when nitrogen oxide gasses that are emitted from vehicles and factories counter with volatile organic compounds in the air. “Ozone is a secondary pollutant,” Shen explains. “This means it’s not discharged but formed in the air. Therefore, we can’t regulate it by simply cutting off its emitters, because it doesn’t have any. We need strict emission policies that cut other pollutants to decrease ozone.”