by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel

Steven Spielberg’s first blockbuster hit as a director was 1975’s Jaws, and we all know sequels are rarely as good as the original. Yet it was 1978’s Jaws II, directed by someone far less famous, that film historians often credit with the movie industry’s best-ever tagline, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.”

In the same way, a new study gives us pause about the decades of progress Americans have made in cleaning up air pollution. I know, there is a new study every other week, but this one has considerable credibility, being from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, written by Princeton researchers, funded by the National Academy of Sciences, and published in the journal Nature Communications. This research points to a dramatic increase in carbon monoxide levels during August, a month when carbon monoxide levels have historically remained low. And it predicts a tripling of western U.S. particulate pollution in the coming years because of wildfires.

Just when Americans had every reason to be proud of astonishing achievements, especially the near disappearance of the thick brown clouds that hung over many cities in the early 1970s, when the Clean Air Act was adopted. As EPA points out, “Great progress has been made in achieving national air quality standards, which EPA originally established in 1971 and updates periodically based on the latest science. One sign of this progress is that visible air pollution is less frequent and widespread than it was in the 1970s.”