Earth Day 2002 Fact Sheet: Environmental Progress Since the First Earth Day

Air Quality: Since 1970, aggregate emissions of the six principal air pollutants tracked nationally have been cut by 29 percent. During that same time period, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product increased 158 percent, while energy consumption increased 45 percent. Vehicle miles traveled have increased 143 percent.1

Between 1970 and 1999, carbon monoxide (CO) emission levels declined by 29 percent; sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions declined 40 percent; volatile organic compounds (VOC), major contributors to smog, declined 43 percent; particulate matter decreased by 88 percent and lead (Pb) emissions sharply declined by 98 percent.2 Over the past 20 years, monitored levels of NO2 have decreased 14 percent. All locations within the United States that once violated the national air quality standard for NO2 now meet that standard.3


Auto emissions: Between 1970 and 1999, total emissions of the six major pollutants decreased 29 percent while the number of vehicle miles traveled increased 143 percent. During that same time, the gross domestic product increased 158 percent and energy consumption increased by 45 percent.4


Acid Rain: The Environmental Protection Agency’s market-based emissions trading program to reduce acid rain has successfully reduced these air pollutants from 16 million tons in 1990 to 11.2 million tons in 2000.5 Benzene, a toxic air pollutant emitted from cars, trucks, oil refineries and chemical processes has shown a 40 percent drop between 1994 and 1999.6


Aircraft Fuel Efficiency: The Boeing 757 consumes 43 percent less fuel than older trijets, such as the 727. In addition to increased efficiency, current 757 technology has also led to lower noise pollution.7


Wetlands: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Inventory (NRI) data from 1997 estimates a loss of wetlands between 1992 and 1997 of 32,000 acres per year – down from 80,000 acres per year in the early 1990s. The NRI also reports a net gain in wetland acreage on private lands in the western U.S.8


Oil and Gas Reserves: The U.S. Geological Survey’s “World Petroleum Assessment 2000” estimated the quantities of conventional oil, gas and liquid natural gas outside the U.S. that have the potential to be added to American reserves in the next 30 years. Compared to their own 1994 estimates, “undiscovered volumes from this assessment (exclusive of the U.S.) are 20 percent greater for oil, 14 percent smaller for gas and 130 percent greater for natural gas liquids.”9


Energy Efficiency: “Energy consumption per dollar of GDP has declined at an average annual rate of 1.7 percent during the last 25 years” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. “Similarly, per-capital energy use grew 61 percent in the 25 years from 1949 to 1974, but grew only two percent in the 25 years since then” according to the Pacific Research Institute’s Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2001.10

1 “Latest Findings on National Air Quality: 2000 Status and Trends,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air Quality, Washington, DC, downloaded from on March 28, 2002.
2 Ibid.
3 “Latest Findings on National Air Quality: 2000 Status and Trends-Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2),” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air Quality, Washington, DC, downloaded from on March 28, 2002.
4 “Latest Findings on National Air Quality: 2000 Status and Trends.”
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 “757-200 Background,” The Boeing Company, Seattle, WA, downloaded from on April 1, 2002.
8 Steven Hayward, “Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2001,” Pacific Research Institute, 2001, p. 42.
9 “World Petroleum Assessment 2000,” U.S.G.S., downloaded from on March 29, 2002.
10 “Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2001,” p. 57-58.


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