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Editorial: We can breathe easier, but for how long?

Two in five U.S. citizens live where pollution levels are too dangerous to breathe. That's according to the annual American Lung Association State of the Air Report released last week.

The good news is that the number of people exposed to these unhealthy particulates dropped from 166 million to 125 million based on three-year measurements covering 2012-14 and 2013-15.

The better news — locally, anyway — is that our region (Goodhue, Dakota, Washington and Wabasha counties in Minnesota and St. Croix, Pierce and Pepin in Wisconsin) appears to be doing fairly well. While the air quality monitors are few and far between in the rural areas, those with large populations received "A" and "B" grades for air quality. Yes, the neighboring Twin Cities are among the most breathe-easy metropolitan areas in the nation.

Milwaukee, for example, gets an "F" in the ozone report card but an "A" in particle pollution. The Midwest's only entry on the 24 most polluted list: Sheboygan, Wis.

The grades for the Minnesota and Wisconsin counties with air monitors can be found at www.stateoftheair.org.

The State of the Air Report analyzes data collected by state agencies and is certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The American Lung Association grades counties by the number of air quality alerts for ozone or particle pollution that occurred during a three-year period.

The report comes as the Trump administration is pushing to scale back federal regulations aimed at reducing emissions linked to global climate change. There also is pressure to relax vehicle fuel efficiency rules.

Changes to either could increase pollution and put more people at risk of lung-related conditions, diseases and conditions. Changes to both surely will.

We urge lawmakers to consider the ramifications and take steps to continue improving air quality, not clouding the issue with political rhetoric.

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