Today we issue stronger, more protective standards for two pollutants -- ozone and particulate mattter (otherwise known as smog and soot). We are taking action to improve the quality of the air we breathe, and doing so in a way that makes sense for our communities and for our economy.
Most importantly, we are moving forward on our greatest challenge -- to provide a better, safer and healthier world for our children and their children to come.
It has been more than a decade since the last time we looked at the scientific evidence on particulate matter in the air. It has been 20 years since the last time we did the same for ozone. We,re talking 1977. A college dropout named Bill Gates was dreaming of starting a computer software business. And John Travolta was a youngster who wore a white suit and danced to the disco beat of the Bee Gees.
A lot has happened since then along the road to the 21st Century. For one thing, science and technology have come a long, long way. Today we know a great deal more than we did in the 1970s about polluted air and what it does to the human body.
We know that too many of our children, parents and grandparents can get sick by breathing outdoor air that, for the past 20 years, has been considered to be acceptable under government guidelines. We know that people who have heart or respiratory illnesses can die an early death. And we know that even healthy people can suffer lung damage if they exercise or work outdoors in air that, until today, they were told was safe.
That is why the President made the decision to update the air quality standards for smog and for soot. From this day on, those standards will reflect what we now know to be true about the dangers of polluted air. To the special interests who asked us to turn a blind eye to this evidence and flinch in the face of our public health responsibilities, I say this:
Clean air is vital to the public interest. It is time to bring the nation's air standards into the 1990s. It is our solemn obligation to future generations to do all we can to ensure that the air in our communities is safe to breathe -- today, tomorrow and far into the future.
On this hot summer day, you don't have to look very far to understand that, despite the progress of the past quarter century, air pollution is still a serious problem in this country. This the fourth "ozone red alert day" in a row for the people living in and around Washington, DC.
Do you know what that means? It means that parents are urged to keep their kids indoors. Elderly people, and those with heart and respiratory ailments, are warned not to go outside. Even healthy people are cautioned against jogging or other strenuous outdoor exercise.
And for those children who are among the five million in America who have asthma -- the most common chronic illness in children -- going outside on a day like today is risky business. So we are taking refuge indoors -- in order to protect these children from the outside air that poses a danger to their health.
And, with stronger and more protective air quality standards, we are taking the necessary steps to ensure that the air will be safer to breathe in the days to come -- not just for kids with asthma, not just for the elderly and the infirm, but for all Americans.
By strengthening these standards, we are continuing along the path of progress -- progress in improving public health, progress in cleaning up and protecting our environment, and progress in building the nation's economic strength and security.
That is what the Clean Air Act envisions for our nation -- setting strong public health standards for air pollution, and then tapping into America's vast reserves of innovation and ingenuity to meet those standards in a way that grows our economy.
We have developed a plan to implement these new standards in the most flexible, common sense and cost-effective ways -- so that they will deliver both cleaner air and continued economic progress. Communities and businesses will be afforded ample time to reduce pollution and bring themselves into compliance. States are working together to reduce pollutants that originate in one area and affect cities located far downwind. We will be working with businesses, with states and with local governments to help them meet these new standards and, at the same time, continue on the road to growth and prosperity.
Can we do it? Can we achieve the twin goals of cleaner air and a stronger economy?
You bet we can. We've done it before. We can continue to meet this challenge.
And future generations remember us fondly for enabling them to breathe easier.