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Celebrating Americans Who Didn't Die in 2010

As 2011 approaches, scores of online outlets are eulogizing the Hollywood stars, musicians, authors, and other icons who died this year. While it’s only natural to reflect on what was lost, there’s also a powerful story to be told about a huge group of people who didn’t die—though it may not get the attention won by familiar names and faces.

According to estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 160,000 American lives were saved in 2010 by the Clean Air Act’s health protections. That tremendous number—roughly the population of U.S. cities such as Santa Rosa, CA, Sioux Falls, SD, and Springfield, MA—is the capstone in a year-end list of the eleven biggest clean air events of 2010, compiled by the American Lung Association.

ALA’s list highlights some of 2010’s monumental victories, including the first-ever toxic air emission standards for cement kilns—one of the largest sources of mercury pollution in the United States—and new limits on auto pollution.

But as ALA notes, the news isn’t all good. The EPA announced a few weeks ago that it plans to delay the life- and cost-saving potential of two critical health standards that would protect Americans from smog and the toxic pollution from industrial boilers. Combined, these protections could save as many as 12,000 additional lives and as much as $100 billion in health costs every year.

The Clean Air Act turns 40 tomorrow, which is why I’ll be celebrating more than the passing of one year into the next. Four decades of clean air protections have made our country stronger, healthier and more prosperous, and the coming year brings tremendous opportunities to build on that success. Earthjustice and our allies will continue to fight for your right to breathe.