Can the Clean Air Act Be Used to Tackle Indoor Emissions?

Can the Clean Air Act Be Used to Tackle Indoor Emissions?

Policy experts at the Evergreen Collaborative are calling on President Biden to follow the example of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York by issuing green appliance standards in new homes nationwide. Historically, the EPA has interpreted the Clean Air Act to apply to outdoor air pollution alone -- indoor air pollution, in contrast, has received very little scrutiny from the EPA. Climate experts, though, say that this precedent should change. Indoor fumes are extremely detrimental to human health, and contribute to climate change when vented outside -- in the words of Evergreen Action senior advisor Leah Stokes, "most of us are basically running mini fossil fuel plants.”

CBS 8 San Diego: How household appliances are polluting air in California, February 14, 2022.

University of York: YorkTalks 2022 | Indoor air pollution: the dirty secret lurking in our homes?, January 20, 2022.

DW: Refrigerants |The climate killer hiding in your kitchen, February 21, 2021.

Why This Matters

13% of America’s climate pollution comes from gas stoves. Not only do they emit carbon dioxide -- they emit methane and benzene too, sometimes even when switched off. Both of the latter pollutants are particularly concerning. A new study reveals that gas stoves expose more than one-third of US homes to benzene, a toxic chemical shown to cause health issues including cancer and reproductive disorders. The greenhouse gas (GHG) methane traps 80x more heat than carbon dioxide, and must be mitigated by 2030 to halt temperature rise. Already, though, atmospheric levels have reached 2.5x their pre-industrial levels. Worse, last April, total worldwide GHGs reached a record high.

Indoors, these emissions pose a direct threat to human health. Children in homes that run on gas appliances are 42% more likely to have asthma. The burden, though, is not shared equally -- one recent study by the Resource Management Institute (RMI) found that black Americans were 55% more likely to die from indoor appliance pollution than white Americans.

Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment: Stanford researchers find high emissions of greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants from gas stoves, January 22, 2022.

Bloomberg: The Dangers of Methane Gas, October 11, 2021.

Bloomberg: Record Methane Levels Made 2021 5th Hottest Year Since 2000, January 10, 2022.

The consequences of gas stove pollution aren’t confined to the home. Emissions from gas appliances have become one of the deadliest sources of cross state air-pollution. In 2017, these appliances emitted over 425,000 tons of nitrogen oxide, more than is legally allowed by outdoor air pollution laws. This has prompted experts and environmental groups to call for an expansion of the Clean Air Act’s application. A formal petition issued to the EPA in August notes that one section of the law, which provides the authority to regulate new sources of pollution, could be employed to crack down on indoor gas appliances.

Euronews: UN Secretary-General says the climate crisis is placing half of humanity in 'the danger zone,' June 14, 2022.

Grantham Imperial: Dr Friederike Otto speaks to CNN's Connect the World about the extreme heat, 18 July 2022, July 19, 2022.

Converting One Billion Gas Machines

Decarbonizing the American economy will require converting approximately one billion machines to electrical power. This starts in the home -- according to one recent study, swapping out gas furnaces for electric one can reduce heating pollution in the typical US home by between 45% and 72%.

Washington state has already mandated the installation of electric heat pumps in new homes, and others are sure to follow. In existing homes, though, making the switch has proved more complicated than expected: no contractors want to install electric furnaces. Twenty years ago, electric furnaces often failed during cold weather. Though technological developments have improved their reliability, their bad reputation has persisted.

Brian Stewart, Oregon resident, founded Electrify Now to combat this misinformation and provide information to help others get their homes off fossil fuels. The volunteer-based group offers homeowners a step-by-step guide to household decarbonization, which not only cuts emissions, but energy costs.

The current energy crisis is pushing businesses to electrify as well. Across industries, installing heat pumps can be a climate and cost- friendly solution. The technology harnesses the heat generated from industrial processes and repurposes it to fuel production or indoor heating.

Rewiring America: Mr. Heat Pump Goes to Washington, June 13, 2022.

Grist: What's the true cost of a heat pump?, July 6, 2022.

Vox: Why heaters are the future of cooling, September 24, 2021.