Majority of Illinoisans Regularly Breathe Unsafe Air, According to New Report

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Contact: Hannah Flath,, 860-634-0225

Majority of Illinoisans Regularly Breathe Unsafe Air, According to New Report
Adopting Clean Vehicle Standards would dramatically reduce air pollution and environmental injustice

Illinois -- Roughly 9 million Illinois residents, comprising 71% of the state’s entire population, live in areas that regularly experience air that the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined is unsafe to breathe, according to a report released by the Sierra Club. The report indicates that light-duty, medium-duty, and heavy-duty vehicles massively contribute to the state’s ozone pollution. Sierra Club and other conservation, public health, and environmental justice organizations are calling on Governor Pritzker and the Illinois EPA to adopt the Clean Vehicle Standards, namely the Advanced Clean Cars II (ACC II) Rule, Heavy Duty Omnibus (HDO) Rule, and Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) Rule to improve public health, reduce disproportionate burdens of pollution on environmental justice communities, and assist Illinois in achieving its transportation electrification goals.

Sonoma Technology modeling detailed in the report confirms that Illinois is not in compliance with legally binding federal National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). According to the modeling, up to one-sixth of the federal air quality standard of 70 parts per billion (“ppb”) of ozone is the result of pollution from in-state cars and trucks. Illinois’ historically high ozone levels are exacerbating race- and income-based health disparities and have an outsized impact on communities of color in Illinois.

“Dirty air has plagued communities like Little Village for far too long, but the tools to tackle these injustices are right at our fingertips. Governor Pritzker and the Illinois EPA can enact the suite of Clean Vehicles Standards today to dramatically reduce the burden of air pollution that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities in Chicago and across the state,” said José Miguel Acosta-Córdova, Senior Transportation Policy Analyst at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO). “After a summer marked by nearly daily air quality warnings and inaction in the Illinois General Assembly on environmental justice during 2023 legislative sessions, it’s clear that we need climate leaders like Governor Pritzker to take swift, bold action to protect our communities from transportation pollution.”

Nearly a quarter of Illinois’ total nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions, approximately 24.9%, are the result of pollution from vehicles driving on Illinois’ roads. Modeling demonstrates that adoption and implementation of the ACT and HDO Rules together would reduce NOx emissions by nearly 188,000 metric tons by 2050, and adopting the ACC II cleaner car standard could avoid nearly 38,000 metric tons of NOx emissions from the state’s light-duty fleet by 2050. In addition to improving statewide air quality, implementing these three rules would significantly reduce Illinois’ transportation-related climate pollution. By implementing the ACT Rule, Illinois would avoid a projected 140.62 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. With ACC II, Illinois would avoid 207.43 million metric tons by that time.

“Governor Pritzker is working hard to attract jobs and investment in the electric vehicle manufacturing industry, which bodes well for our future,” said Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin. “The Clean Vehicle Standards will provide a critical boost to Illinois’ efforts to meet climate and electrification goals in the transportation sector while also ensuring our air is cleaner to breathe for all Illinois residents and communities. Clean Vehicle Standards for those sold in Illinois complement our efforts to make sure electric vehicles are built right here in Illinois.”

A dozen conservation, public health, and environmental justice organizations joined the Sierra Club in sharing this report with Governor Pritzker and the Illinois EPA. The following organizations call on the Pritzker Administration to enact the Advanced Clean Cars II Rule, the Advanced Clean Trucks Rule, and the Heavy Duty Omnibus Rule: the Active Transportation Alliance, the Respiratory Health Association, the Illinois Environmental Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Evanston Transit Alliance, Bike Wilmette, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, and the Metropolitan Planning Council.