The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a “code orange” air quality alert for Western Pennsylvania last week, confirming what many of us already knew — there was something in the air. A cocktail of air pollution, heat and sunshine created unhealthy concentrations of ground-level ozone, also known as “smog.”

Exposure to smog is unhealthy for everyone, but older adults, children and people with respiratory diseases like asthma are especially vulnerable to its dangerous health impacts. Smog is a powerful irritant, and breathing it is like getting a sunburn on the lungs.

Pennsylvania DEP’s alert included a list of ways that residents and businesses can help reduce ozone air pollution: drive less, limit engine idling, conserve electricity, etc. All of these are great practices that cut down on air pollution — one of the key ingredients in the recipe for ozone — but they are Band-Aids in the long term. In order to prevent air quality alerts like this from becoming more common in the future, we need policies that tackle pollution on a grand scale and prevent smog from forming in the first place.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is one of these much-needed measures. The historic $369 billion investment in climate and clean air was signed into law by President Biden one year ago this month and has put us on the path to a future where we can all breathe easier. The IRA makes electric vehicles, solar panels and energy-efficient appliances more affordable, all of which reduce climate-warming and health-harming pollution while also saving new homeowners in Pennsylvania an estimated $341 on their energy bills annually.

The IRA’s significant investments in climate and clean air are expected to result in 100,000 fewer asthma attacks in 2030. This is a huge win that will spare families scary emergency room visits, hefty bills and even premature death. The IRA has also provided $4.2 million in funding for community air monitoring projects in Pennsylvania that will help leaders identify the biggest air quality concerns in the state and assess the magnitude of existing environmental injustices that leave communities of color and low-wealth communities disproportionately exposed to air pollution. All of these data will give leaders tools to direct resources to the communities that need them most.

The promise of more comprehensive air quality data can’t come soon enough as Pennsylvania is poised to receive millions in funding for state and locally driven climate action. The state gained access to these funds by joining the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant program that was established under the IRA.

Each one of these investments helps us avoid worst-case climate scenarios and a future where “code orange” days are the norm, but we cannot afford to let our leaders rest on their laurels.

One of the ways we can bring that clean air future closer is by demanding action from our government officials. I saw the power of advocacy firsthand in my work with Moms Clean Air Force when we were pushing our leaders in Congress to vote for bold climate investments in the IRA. The outpouring of public support is one of the reasons that this bill made it to the legislative finish line and millions of dollars have already been infused into our state.

The IRA put us well on our way to securing a healthy and livable environment. Now it’s time to build on this momentum by calling on our lawmakers and leaders to fight for other policies that safeguard our future. The IRA gave us a head start, but the race isn’t over. Let’s make sure that “code orange” days remain the exception and don’t become the rule.

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