The air in the United States is relatively clean, right? While this may be true compared to some nations, RAP associate John Shenot recently highlighted that 150 million people in the US live in areas that do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) established by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for at least one air pollutant. At the Mid-America Regulatory Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, Mr. Shenot spoke to representatives of utility and energy regulatory agencies from 14 states about how energy efficiency can be implemented as a strategy to combat air pollution.

Given that the electric power sector contributes heavily to total air pollution in the United States—according to the EPA, as much as 60% of total sulfur dioxide emissions and 40% of our national carbon emissions—environmental regulators should look to the industry for overall emissions reductions. Energy efficiency is a method for not only reducing multiple pollutants at the source, but also for displacing fossil fuel use and making an investment that pays for itself over time. This effective, low-cost tool also enjoys strong support from the federal government. The EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation published a new Roadmap for Incorporating Energy Efficiency/Renewable Energy Policies and Programs, actively encouraging state, tribal, and local agencies to consider leveraging energy efficiency policies and programs in plans for NAAQS non-attainment areas. For the energy industry, non-attainment of these air quality standards can mean restrictive permitting requirements and mandatory emissions offsets. In closing, Mr. Shenot emphasized the importance of collaboration between air regulators and energy regulators. Energy regulators can help air regulators understand the nature and impacts of the utility energy efficiency and renewable energy programs already in place. In return, air regulators can help energy regulators assess the cost-effectiveness of their programs and provide access to solid data on environmental costs and benefits.