Clean Air Act 101

smokestackWhat is the Clean Air Act?

For forty years the Clean Air Act has given the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to set limits on harmful air pollutants. From mercury to lead, the EPA has enforced needed safeguards to ensure basic health and environmental protection from air pollution for all Americans. For this, it is one of the strongest public health protection laws in the country.

Since Nixon signed the Clean Air Act into law in 1970, it has prevented over 400,000 premature deaths and hundreds of millions of cases of respiratory illnesses, such as asthma; the six commonly found air pollutants have decreased by more than 50 percent, while the U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, has tripled; air toxics from large industrial sources, such as chemical plants, petroleum refineries, and paper mills have been reduced by nearly 70 percent; and, new cars, light trucks, and heavy-duty diesel engines are more than 90 percent cleaner.

The process for cleaning up air quality starts with the EPA setting national health-based air quality standards on dangerous pollutants like ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. The Clean Air Act also gives EPA the authority to limit emissions of air pollutants coming from sources like chemical plants, utilities, and steel mills.

In 2009, after thorough scientific investigation, the EPA ruled that climate change pollutants are dangerous to human welfare. And on January 2, 2011, the EPA’s rulemaking for regulating these emissions took effect.

After the EPA sets a standard on pollutants, states, tribes and local governments use their understanding of local industries, geography, housing, and travel patterns to create an implementation plan to clean up polluted areas. These plans must meet national health standards by a certain date.

The EPA helps by providing scientific research, expert studies, engineering design, and money to support clean air programs. Since 1970, Congress and the EPA have provided several billion dollars to states, tribes, and local governments to reduce air pollution.

The EPA then approves implementation plans that reduce air pollution. If a plan does not meet the necessary requirements, EPA can issue sanctions against the state and, if necessary, take over enforcing the Clean Air Act in that area.

Why do we need to defend the Clean Air Act?

Despite the health benefits and bi-partisan support that the Clean Air Act has fostered, polluters and their allies in Congress are currently working to weaken Clean Air Act standards. They are proposing rollbacks that would have a devastating impact on our health and economy.

cover_smAs polluters spend millions of dollars lobbying members of Congress to weaken standards, we need to tell our elected officials to keep protecting American families and our environment.

If you are interested in taking action on the issue, check out our other blog, Fighting for Clean Air.

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