Clean Air Act

In the midst of social and political upheaval during the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson proposed a variety of federally managed programs to turn America into a Great Society. In addition to fighting poverty and providing medical care for the elderly, Johnson’s agenda also laid the foundations of a major piece of environmental legislation: the Clean Air Act.

Claiming that air pollution was "a serious and growing threat to both our health and our safety," Johnson declared that the Clean Air Act (CAA) would "halt the trend toward greater contamination of our atmosphere" produced by industry.

The Clean Air Act was amended in 1970, a move which placed power in the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), a measurement defining how much of a pollutant can be in the air anywhere in the United States. This power was further solidified when the CAA was amended again in 1977 and 1990.

According to EPA, emissions regulations for manufacturing plants and vehicles have helped decrease incidence of illnesses such as asthma and cancer, reduced damage to the environment, and even provided many new jobs in "pollution-reducing" industries. Indeed, according to EPA’s most recent CAA report, "the direct benefits from the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments are estimated to reach almost $2 trillion for the year 2020."

Despite these apparent successes, however, many suggest that cleaner air is attainable without federal regulation and the costs that accompany it. Some researchers have even pointed out that air pollution was actually declining already before the CAA was enacted. Data also suggests that air pollutants such as lead, ozone, and carbon monoxide have decreased dramatically even as automobile driving rates and coal usage have increased.  

The health benefits of the Clean Air Act have also been called into question. Some suggest that air pollution might not be the main culprit in diseases such as asthma, and that elevated ozone levels might actually reduce the incidence of asthma cases in children.

On the economic level, environmental regulations such as the Clean Air Act have had profound impacts on manufacturing industries. According to one report, the CAA caused factories in high pollution areas to lose "approximately 100,000 jobs, $50 billion in capital stock, and $30 billion (1987$) of output." This same study noted that the CAA’s pollution regulations unintentionally hindered newer – and probably less-polluting – factories from surviving, while the older, more established, but heavily polluting factories were able to deal with governmental regulations at less cost.

Over the last several years, the concern over climate change and greenhouse gases has once again brought the Clean Air Act to the public’s attention, most prominently with the Supreme Court's striking down EPA's refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts v. EPA:

"Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Act's capacious definition of 'air pollutant,' EPA has statutory authority to regulate emission of such gases from new motor vehicles. That definition—which includes 'any air pollution agent ... , including any physical, chemical, ... substance ... emitted into ... the ambient air ... ,'—embraces all airborne compounds of whatever stripe. Moreover, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are undoubtedly 'physical [and] chemical ... substance[s].' EPA's reliance on postenactment congressional actions and deliberations it views as tantamount to a command to refrain from regulating greenhouse gas emissions is unavailing. Even if postenactment legislative history could shed light on the meaning of an otherwise-unambiguous statute, EPA identifies nothing suggesting that Congress meant to curtail EPA's power to treat greenhouse gases as air pollutants." 

Concerned over a potentially devastating impact of new regulation on the economy because of this decision, expert witnesses on Capitol Hill have suggested that "Congress should amend the CAA so that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not authorized to regulate GHGs for climate change purposes" because greenhouse gas emissions and climate change should be dealt with by other means.

In September of 2011, President Obama publicly recognized the negative impact increased EPA regulations could have on economic recovery and job growth by deciding not to raise federal ozone standards for the time being. Obama, however, reiterated his belief in the importance of the Clean Air Act, stating:

"I want to be clear: my commitment and the commitment of my administration to protecting public health and the environment is unwavering. I will continue to stand with the hardworking men and women at the EPA as they strive every day to hold polluters accountable and protect our families from harmful pollution. And my administration will continue to vigorously oppose efforts to weaken EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act or dismantle the progress we have made."

As one of the leading pieces of environmental regulation in America, this topic offers a comprehensive overview of the Clean Air Act. The resources in this section provide readers with information on the history of the CAA, the costs and benefits of air pollution regulation, and the implications of this Act for America's economic and environmental future.

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Quotes on the Clean Air Act

Commentary or Blog Post

If only one child in a class fails a test, should the teacher assign failing grades to everyone? That's exactly how the American Lung Association (ALA) assigns air quality grades to America's cities and counties in its annual State of the Air report....

"The Clean Air Act is a law with a 40-year track record of cutting dangerous pollution to protect human health and the environment. Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this legislation has prevented more than 400,000 premature deaths and hundreds of millions of cases of respiratory and cardiovascular disease."

Most of what Americans 'know' about air pollution is false.

The president then handed the cat-skinning job over to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is imposing limits on greenhouse gas emissions by means of regulations under the Clean Air Act.

Enacted in 1970, the Clean Air Act (CAA) is the most complex, comprehensive, and costly environmental statute in existence.

In late March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency's 1997 air quality standards.

If the EPA were to administer the Clean Air Act as written with respect to greenhouse gases, then it would need to hire 230,000 more staff and spend $21 billion annually to deal with the deluge of paperwork that would result.

Technology--in the form of cleaner cars, cleaner power plants, cleaner paints, cleaner everything--has won the battle for clean air, even with burgeoning economic activity.

This article reports on a study finding "that cattle grazed on the grasslands of China actually reduce another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide."

"In a step that officials said would save lives, the Obama administration on Friday announced new air quality standards intended to reduce the amount of soot that can be released into the air.

Environmental groups and public health advocates welcomed the move by the Environmental Protection Agency, saying it would protect millions of Americans at risk for soot-related asthma attacks,...

In April 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision against the EPA over its refusal to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from motor vehicles.

Even as public health authorities and environmental activists become more strident in raising health alarms, evidence continues to mount that air pollution at contemporary low levels is causing little or no harm, even in the most polluted areas of the country.

The U.S. economy won a temporary reprieve with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement last week that new ozone standards, which had been slated for this summer, will be delayed.

Environmental Protection Agency officials Wednesday provided power companies and states with new guidance on EPA’s plans to regulate greenhouse gases.

With these facts in mind, let’s examine the outrageous logic of the Environmental Protection Agency when it comes to so-called clean air regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to kill more jobs with another make-believe air-pollution scare.

Given our country’s reliance on fossil fuels for power production and the increase in vehicle use, it is perhaps not surprising that many people believe that air quality in the United States has declined in recent years.

President Obama decided Friday not to raise federal ozone standards for air pollution, causing a rift with environmentalists but winning praise from industry groups and congressional Republicans.

There is general agreement that we must control pollution of our air, water, and land, but there is considerable dispute over how controls should be designed and how much control is enough.

In this article I show how our air is in fact safe to breathe.

This month, I will document the evidence that even air pollution levels far higher than any we experience in the United States are perfectly safe, and that the nation's air does not cause adverse health effects.

This article will try to answer these questions by looking at air quality and demographic data from California, a state with a diverse population and with a significant amount of air pollution regulation.

This article questions the wisdom of regulating fuel standards, and the logic that increased fuel efficiency translates into reduced demand for oil. It may sound strange, but it's an interesting thought.

Yesterday marked the 40th birthday of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Air Act (CAA), and environmentalists celebrated by reminding us how beneficial the regulation has been at improving air quality in the U.S.

The gas crunch of 2000 differs from those in the past in one key respect: Clean Air Act regulations have now emerged as a substantial contributor to motor-fuel prices.

This paper urges significant reforms of the CAA to restrict the EPA's power to establish costly standards with few environmental benefits.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a dramatic tightening of air-quality standards in an attempt to reduce deaths and illness from air pollution. The regulations already have ignited public controversy.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that her bureaucracy would begin to regulate the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases deemed to be warming the planet.

The EPA’s endangerment finding, which took effect January 14, gives the EPA authority under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs).

There's nothing reasonable or balanced about the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to tighten national air-quality standards for ozone emissions at this time.

With Earth Day about a month away, Americans tell Gallup they worry the most about several water-related risks and issues among nine major environmental issues. They worry least about global warming and loss of open spaces.

Ben Lieberman of the Heritage Foundation discusses the negative economic effects of new EPA regulations.

Ben Lieberman
Senior Policy Analyst, Energy & Environment
Heritage Foundation
July 28, 2008

Discussion about proposed EPA regulations on auto emissions,...

Chart or Graph

Emissions were substantially lower by 1990 under the control scenario than under the no-control scenario, as shown in Figure ES-2.

Air pollution has been declining for decades across the United States. The chart ... [above] tells the story.

At least three in four Americans surveyed in Gallup's 2011 Environment poll say they worry a great deal or a fair amount about contamination of soil and water by toxic waste....

Exhibit 1. Primary Central Estimates of direct benefits and direct costs for the 2000, 2010, and 2020 study target years. (In billions of 2006 dollars). The graph shows the extent to which benefits exceed costs throughout the study period.

Table 2 depicts how population pollution exposure has changed as the spatial distribution of pollution changed between 1980 and 1998.

This chart, from the World Resources Institute, shows the most common regulated air pollutants as well as their effects on health and the environment.

Figure 1 shows the average number of days per year exceeding the federal eight-hour ozone standard in the six California counties with the highest ozone levels, and in the other forty-nine states plus the District of Columbia.

This chart, provided by the Environmental Protection Agency, shows the original requirements of the Clean Air Act and how they have changed over the years.

The table shows the reductions in risk of various air pollution‐related health effects achieved by 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment programs....

Chart of the current National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Primary standards are set to protect public health, while secondary standards protect the public welfare.

The figure accompanying this article compares average PM2.5 levels and power plant SO2 emissions for the eastern half of the United States since 1994.

The difference in height between the orange and blue bars for each pollutant shows the estimated reduction in that pollutant achieved by 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment programs.

Figure ES-1 summarizes the historical data on Clean Air Act compliance costs by year, adjusted both for inflation and for the value of long-term investments in equipment.

Analysis Report White Paper

The prospects for a Congressional climate change bill have lessened since the Copenhagen summit. If the legislative process fails, EPA may have a number of options available under the existing Clean Air Act to create a cap-and-trade program....

This comprehensive almanac details the state of many environmental concerns, including air pollution, water pollution, climate change, and energy.

The incentives in air pollution health research encourage risk exaggeration, because information purveyors depend on public fear to maintain their funding and influence.

This work, which discusses many aspects of air pollution, includes information on types of air pollutants and how countries have been working to cut the levels of these pollutants.

Air Quality in America shows in detail how activists have distorted the record on air pollution and offers an alternative analysis of air pollution levels, trends, and prospects in metropolitan areas across the United States.

Journalists and environmentalists erroneously claim more than half the country has 'some of the worst air pollution,' when in fact the worst areas of California stand head and shoulders above all others.

In this spirit, we propose to sift a decade's experience generated by one of the countless experiments in administrative lawmaking written into the Clean Air Amendments of 1970.

Much of what Americans think they know about air pollution is false.

The White House apparently is willing to give the green light to ideological environmental groups and Carol Browner's EPA even when their activities might increase pollution.

This report is a briefing on the major components of the Clean Air Act and the major government programs it requires. It emphasizes the changes required by the 1990 amendments.

This report will seek to examine the current clean air debate in more detail.

The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments included a provision instructing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prepare periodic analyses of the costs and benefits of federal air-pollution policy.

An ongoing debate in the United States concerns the costs environmental regulations impose on industry. In this paper, we explore some of the costs associated with air quality regulation.

This study analyzes the effectiveness of the 1990 market-based amendments to the CAA and finds the cap-and-trade programs effectively protect the environment at a significant cost savings over the traditional command-and-control approach.

This paper investigates the effects of air quality regulation on firm decisions concerning plant locations, births, sizes, and investment patterns in major polluting industries.

This study investigates whether firms that adopt abatement techniques under market-based regulations experience greater cost savings versus firms under command-and-control regulations.

EPA greatly overestimated the net benefits of the Clean Air Act amendments. The agency deliberately neglected the cost of complying with a well-known, and expensive requirement of the act and ignored its own scientific advisory board’s advice....

The EPA is likely to face a legal problem on the path to regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

"There is no convincing evidence that synthetic chemical pollutants are important as a cause of human cancer.

This essay, written by the current Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, discusses Whitman v. ATA and its consequences for regulatory agencies.

The efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act have pitted the EPA and some environmental groups against other environmental groups.

This report discusses the consequences of the Whitman v. ATA decision, focusing on the two main debates about environmental regulation: the cost-benefit dispute and the argument over delegation.

We answered the EPA’s request in a filing on June 23, 2009.... This article details some of the most relevant findings in our response.

A report on the Whitman decision that includes analyses of the decision by members of the EPA Administrative Law Reporter's Board of Advisors.

The Clean Air Act works. For four decades, the Clean Air Act has delivered cleaner air while providing economic benefits that have exceeded costs by at least 30 times.

The purpose of this PERC Policy Series paper is to show, by examining specific cases in American and English history, that strong legal traditions enabled ordinary citizens to protect their air, land, and water, often against politically potent parties.

The EPA's CAA study actually represents a milestone in bureaucratic propaganda. Like junk science in a courtroom, the study seemingly attempts to obtain the largest possible benefit figure rather than to come as close as possible to the truth.

On November 27, 1996, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner announced a plan to impose new national air quality standards.

This paper presents new evidence on the effects of these regulatory interventions by using the 1970 and 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments' division of counties into 'high' and 'low' regulation categories.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has claimed the authority under the Clean Air Act to combat global warming by regulating carbon dioxide (CO2).

Congress should amend the Clean Air Act to allow states to adopt remote-sensing programs in place of the unpopular and less effective programs currently required by the act.

Policy makers have hoped that vehicle inspection and maintenance programs would generate air quality improvements at low cost.

Video/Podcast/Media

Discussion about proposed EPA regulations on auto emissions, emissions standards state to state, and the pros and cons of regulating and taxing to further environmental goals.

This podcast discusses how mass transportation such as buses and light rail trains actually emit more pollution per passenger than an automobile does.

Moller presents what Massachusetts v. EPA means for the country and for those in favor of limited government.

MPR: A Discussion on President Obama's New Course for the Environment

Discussion about proposed EPA regulations on auto emissions, emissions standards state to state, and the pros and cons of regulating and taxing to further environmental goals.  Skip to the nine minute mark.

Guests:...

This podcast by a scholar at the Cato Institute advocates repealing the CAFE standards. Taylor says that there is no good economic argument to have the CAFE standards and that they substitute political judgment for economic judgments made by consumers. He also states that since the CAFE standards only deal with fuel efficiency, they discount the amount of pollutant...

"Witnesses testified about a proposed emission rule by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The rule, known as the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) for utilities would set new emission standards for coal and oil-fired electricity generation plants. They focused on the probable impact of the rule on the economy, businesses, and job growth."

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Lisa Jackson tells Bill Maher on HBO that literally trillions of dollars have been saved due to the EPA.

"This video exposes yet another of Obama's radical leftist appointments, EPA head Lisa Jackson. From indoctrination of our youth through the Boy's and Girl's Clubs of America, to fear mongering in a speech to LULAC, to playing the race card in front of BIG (Blacks in Government), Jackson covers all the Environmental Justice bases."

"In economic activity, there are sometimes 'externalities' or spillover effects to other people not involved in the original exchange. Positive externalities result in beneficial outcomes for others, but negative externalities impose costs on others. Prof. Sean Mullholland at Stonehill College addresses a classic example of a negative externality, pollution, and describes three possible...

In this video clip, Senator Rand Paul describes how air pollution has actually declined in recent years despite reports to the contrary. Paul believes America can have a clean atmosphere without implementing more government environmental regulation.

Discussion about proposed EPA regulations on auto emissions, emissions standards state to state, and the pros and cons of regulating and taxing to further environmental goals.

Primary Document

The question of how well the 1990 Amendments have succeeded in protecting public health and the environment from air pollution is very important.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U. S. 497, this Court held that the Clean Air Act authorizes federal regulation of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases....

My administration, under the leadership of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, has taken some of the strongest actions since the enactment of the Clean Air Act four decades ago to protect our environment and the health of our families from air pollution.

This retrospective analysis evaluates the benefits and costs of emissions controls imposed by the Clean Air Act and associated regulations.

In March 2011, EPA issued the Second Prospective Report which looked at the results of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020.

In the last 30 years, we have reduced air pollution in the United States by nearly a third, even as our economic output has more than doubled.

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977 impose certain requirements on States that have not achieved the national air quality standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)....

The Clean Air Act is the law that defines EPA's responsibilities for protecting and improving the nation's air quality and the stratospheric ozone layer.

This web page summarizes the major changes incorporated into the CAA by the 1990 Amendments.

Democrats and leading organizations have united to oppose efforts to dismantle the Clean Air Act.

A Bill To amend the Clean Air Act.

I want to call upon all of you to join me in enacting into law a new Clean Air Act this year. But first, we should remember how far we've come and recognize what works.

Well, as we used to say in the Navy: Mission defined, mission accomplished. Today I am very proud on behalf of everyone here to sign this clean air bill -- Clean Air Act of 1990.

The Clear Skies legislation will continue the great progress we have made against air pollution. Over the past three decades, we've reduced the Nation's air pollution by half.

The legal authority for federal programs regarding air pollution control is based on the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (1990 CAAA).

I am pleased to sign into law H.R. 6161, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977.

This is the third occasion on which this court has been asked to review Environmental Protection Agency ... regulations promulgated under authority of the Clean Air Act

This report examines the CAA provisions that have figured in this debate to see whether this alleged cascade of legal consequences likely would occur.

We have now reached the point where our factories and our automobiles, our furnaces and our municipal dumps are spewing more than 150 million tons of pollutants annually into the air that we breathe-almost one-half million tons a day.

I AM GLAD to approve this legislation which is to be known as the Clean Air Act. It will make possible a national effort to control air pollution, a serious and growing threat to both our health and our safety.

Here the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency must develop automobile carbon dioxide (C02) emissions standards because the relationships of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses to global warming pose "a risk..."

This information from the EPA seeks to: Identify the main provisions for the Clean Air Acts and their Amendments from 1963 to the present day.

The Clean Air Act identifies two types of national ambient air quality standards.

The Clean Air Act is one of the most successful environmental laws in American history and provides an illustrative example of this point.

Thank you for inviting me to testify about Chairman Upton’s draft bill to eliminate portions of the Clean Air Act, the landmark law that all American children and adults rely on to protect them from harmful air pollution.

Through this Petition, the Center for Biological Diversity and 350.org request that the EPA do what the science dictates and the law requires: take necessary regulatory action to control greenhouse gas emissions.

On the last day of the year 1970, I think it would be appropriate to make a very few remarks with regard to this piece of legislation that I will now be signing, the clean air act of 1970.

The draft bill, sponsored by me, Rep. Upton, and Rep. Whitfield, would repeal EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Since day one, under President Obama’s leadership, EPA has worked to ensure health protections for the American people, and has made tremendous progress to ensure that Clean Air Act standards protect all Americans....

I am here today to discuss litigation the State of Texas has filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ('EPA') and explain why the EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases ('GHGs') violates the Clean Air Act.

This testimony describes the impact of regulating CO2 emissions as a pollutant on all buildings deemed "major" emitters.

Congress should amend the CAA so that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not authorized to regulate GHGs for climate change purposes. Concerns about GHG emissions and climate change should be addressed through a different path.

This first prospective study also finds that the benefits of the programs and standards required by the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments significantly exceed costs.

What is the Clean Air Act? The EPA has put together a helpful guide that outlines the programs and regulations found in the CAA.

Under the Clean Air Amendments of 1970 ... the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set 'ambient air' quality standards which, in the EPA's judgment, are 'requisite to protect the public health....

The EPA found that implementing the Clean Air Act’s public health protections 'creates American jobs and bolsters the global competitiveness of American industry...

Syllabus of Whitman v. American Trucking Association, a case which dealt with the EPA's ability to set clean air standards.

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