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We’re leading an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.

Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

Indoor Air Pollution is a Public Health Crisis. President Biden Can Do Something About It.

Indoor air pollution is inflicting premature death and illness in communities across the country. Evergreen’s new report lays out how President Biden can act to eliminate that pollution.

A close up photo of a lit gas-powered stove burner.

Appliances that burn fossil fuels—boilers, stoves, and more—are a public health crisis. Evergreen senior policy advisor Dr. Leah Stokes recently compared those appliances to “mini fossil fuel plants”, sources of concentrated air pollution inside our own homes and businesses that pose an ongoing threat to our wellbeing. Evergreen Action’s recent report, A National Roadmap for Clean Buildings, lays out the steps President Biden can take to eliminate that pollution. To back up the investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, we’ll need a robust set of regulatory standards and compliance mechanisms.

There’s little time to spare. The nation’s fossil fuel appliances emit 425,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) per year, more than all of America’s fossil gas power plants combined. NOx contributes to the formation of local smog and fine particulate matter (PM), causing billions of dollars of public health impacts across America and thousands of premature deaths each year; residential and commercial emissions are now the leading cause of early deaths from air pollution that crosses state lines.

Meanwhile, inside America’s homes and commercial buildings, appliances contribute to a toxic stew of unregulated indoor air pollution that often far exceeds the legal limits set on outdoor pollution. Those heavily concentrated pollutants can contribute to and increase the risk of health issues, including a 42 percent higher risk of childhood asthma. Recent research shows that even when gas appliances are turned off, they can still be leaking toxic pollution into our homes.

Like so many environmental burdens in America, the pollution associated with buildings hits historically marginalized low-income communities and communities of color the hardest. Communities of color are exposed to twice as much outdoor PM from fossil fuel appliances and suffer disproportionately higher rates of asthma as a consequence, and Black Americans are 55 percent more likely to die from the impacts of fossil-fuel appliance pollution compared to white Americans. Often, these communities cannot afford to pay for the building maintenance and improvements necessary to mitigate fossil fuel appliance pollution. But investments in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), paired with additional executive action, can help cover these costs. 

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) dedicates billions of dollars to tackling this slow-moving crisis through more than a dozen programs, but those investments alone cannot ensure a complete shift to clean, electrified appliances in the seventy million homes and businesses that currently burn fossil fuels for heating, cooking, and other needs. Closing the gap will require executive action and a new approach to setting standards for clean buildings.

Using the Clean Air Act to Eliminate NOx Pollution

Under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can establish Clean Appliance Standards that progressively ratchet down limits on appliance NOx pollution. Evergreen’s new roadmap recommends that the standards ensure 100 percent of all new appliance sales are zero-emissions by 2030. Pursuing this course would make a massive dent in toxic pollution from the buildings sector, provide predictability to the market as it shifts to electrification, and create a firm compliance framework to ensure we reach the set targets.

Tightening Appliance Efficiency Standards

The Department of Energy (DOE) establishes energy efficiency standards for dozens of appliance categories, and 66 of those categories are overdue for an update. Finally tightening efficiency standards would lower air pollution across the board, even for buildings with electric appliances — on grids that still burn fossil fuels, lower electricity consumption means lower volumes of pollution. Our paper recommends a few key regulatory changes DOE can make, in partnership with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, to speed up this process.

Making Improvements to the Weatherization Assistance Program

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has been wildly successful, weatherizing over seven million low-income households, cutting utility bills for families under disproportionate energy burdens, and cost-effectively providing health and safety benefits since 1976. With a few regulatory tweaks, WAP can also help cut toxic buildings pollution in communities across the country: the Evergreen roadmap proposes changing rules to prevent swapping one fossil fuel appliance for another, incorporating the health costs of fossil fuels into project analyses, and calculating savings based on both heating and cooling from new heat pumps, among other measures.

Advancing Justice through Implementation

IRA and the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA) together make billions of dollars of investments in electrifying and reducing air pollution in the buildings sector, but federal programs have a long history of disproportionately benefiting wealthier and whiter communities. President Biden must make good on his commitment to direct 40 percent of the benefits of climate investments to frontline and marginalized communities. Funding to states should also be issued with guidance to prioritize clean building projects located within disadvantaged communities, which can be identified using DOE’s Energy Justice Mapping tool. By ensuring that federal buildings investments go to underserved communities of color, the president can help mitigate the stark racial disparities in who suffers from air pollution in the built environment.

Get the Full Breakdown in Our New Report 

Fossil fuel appliances are a health hazard in tens of millions of homes and businesses across America. IRA and IIJA are major downpayments on the full transition to clean and efficient alternatives; President Biden must follow through with standards to guide and hasten that transition. As buildings sector pollution continues to poison families and drive up childhood asthma rates, the administration must use every tool at their disposal to advance electrification. The cost of inaction is far too great.

Enter your information below to download Evergreen’s full report on buildings sector pollution and policy tools, A National Roadmap for Clean Buildings.

Download the Roadmap Now

President Biden and his administration must show visionary leadership by executing on this roadmap and helping create a nation of clean buildings. Download our recommendations now.