Air-pollution policy (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
The Clean Air Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1963, laid the foundation for what some consider to be the most progressive, wide-reaching, and complicated environmental cleanup legislation in the world. When the Clean Air Act and other early federal, state, and local clean air laws proved to be relatively ineffective, several sweeping amendments to the laws were enacted.
The groundbreaking 1970 amendments to the Clean Air Act resulted in emissions standards for automobiles and new industries in addition to establishing air-quality standards for urban areas. Devised through an exceptionally cooperative bipartisan effort, the 1970 amendments were proclaimed by President Richard M. Nixon to be a “historic piece of legislation” that put the United States “far down the road” toward achieving cleaner air. The amendments established specific maximum concentration levels for several hazardous substances, and the individual states were charged with developing comprehensive plans to implement and maintain these standards.
Tightly controlled scientific methodology was used for the first time to assess and determine acceptable levels for public and environmental health for six “priority air pollutants”: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, respirable particulate matter, ground-level ozone, and lead. Emission standards for air-pollution sources such as automobiles, factories, and power plants were established that...
(The entire section is 351 words.)
Milestones in Air-Pollution Policy (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
|1963||The Clean Air Act sets aside $95 million to reduce air pollution in the United States.|
|1970||The Environmental Protection Agency is established to enforce environmental legislation.|
|1970||Clean Air Act amendments establish stricter air-quality standards.|
|1977||Additional Clean Air Act amendments extend compliance deadlines established by the 1970 amendments and allow the EPA to bring civil lawsuits against companies that do not meet air-quality standards.|
|1979||The United Nations sponsors the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, which is designed to reduce acid rain and air pollution.|
|1987||The Montreal Protocol is signed by twenty-four nations pledging to reduce the output of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons.|
|1990||Clean Air Act amendments increase regulations on emissions that cause acid rain and ozone depletion and also establish a system of pollution permits.|
|1997||The Environmental Protection Agency issues updated air-quality standards.|
|1998||California institutes tougher emission control standards for new cars; other states...|
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1977 Amendments (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
The 1977 amendments to the Clean Air Act were stimulated by growing public and government awareness of the necessity for further clarification of standards and the increased knowledge that came from a decade of scientific pollution-control research. Industrial areas that were in violation of air-quality standards, called nonattainment areas, were allowed to expand their factories or build new ones only if the new sources achieved the lowest possible emission rates. Additionally, other sources of pollution under the same ownership in the same state were required to comply with pollution-control provisions, and unavoidable emissions had to be offset by pollution reductions by other companies within the same region. These emissions-offset policies forced new industries within geographical regions to make formal requests that existing local companies reduce their pollution production; such situations often resulted in new companies paying the considerable expense of new emissions-control devices for existing companies.
Protection of air quality in regions that were already meeting federal standards sparked congressional debate, as many environmentalists asserted that existing air-quality standards gave some industries a theoretical license to pollute the air up to permitted levels. Rules for the “prevention of significant deterioration” within areas that already met clean air standards were set for sulfur oxides and...
(The entire section is 376 words.)
1990 Amendments (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
In 1990 the Clean Air Act was further amended to address inadequacies in previous amendments, with major changes including the establishment of standards and attainment deadlines for 190 toxic chemicals. The amendments were approved through the same kind of bipartisan effort as the one that resulted in the 1970 amendments, prompting President George H. W. Bush to state that the new legislation moved society much closer toward the clean air environment that “every American expects and deserves.”
The 1990 amendments established a market-based measure for pollution taxes on toxic chemical emissions, thus enhancing the incentive for businesses to comply as quickly as possible. Emissions standards were tightened for automobiles, and mileage standards for new vehicles were raised; these provisions attacked the pollution problem at its center by prompting numerous significant steps toward improved fuel efficiency. Notable results of these measures included significant reductions in vehicular emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide (50 percent), carbon monoxide (70 percent), and other harmful substances (20 percent).
The 1990 amendments also established market-based incentives to reduce nitrogen and sulfur oxides because of their role in the growing controversy regarding acid deposition within rainwater. The EPA was empowered to create tradable permits that stipulated permissible emissions levels for nitrogen and...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Subsequent Developments (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
President Bill Clinton continued tightening acceptable levels of smog and soot in the United States but did begin allowing flexible methods for reaching these improved goals over a ten-year period. This marked a significant change from the earlier administration of President Ronald Reagan, which proposed a relaxation of environmental standards to favor industrial and technological interests. Clinton is credited with associating the problem of controlling fossil-fuel emissions with the threat of global warming, an issue that would undergo considerable debate within the United Nations and elsewhere for years to come. A 1990 amendment requiring the use of gasoline containing 2 percent oxygen by weight in regions classified as being in severe or extreme nonattainment for the federal ozone standard was followed by several state-level requirements.
The clean air changes of 1990 led the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to introduce the country’s most stringent vehicle emissions quality controls to date later that year. Under the state’s ambitious program, 2 percent of all new cars sold in California in 1998 were to have pollution-control devices that released no environmentally harmful emissions at all, and the figure was required to rise to 10 percent by 2003. These monumental state laws also dictated that the hydrocarbon emissions of all new cars sold in California be at least 70 percent less than those sold in...
(The entire section is 663 words.)
Indoor Air Quality (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Indoor air pollution began to receive serious public attention in the United States in the wake of the 1970’s energy crisis. Interest in conserving energy drove changes in the construction of new buildings, and the retrofitting of old ones, aimed at retaining desired indoor temperatures. Making structures more airtight meant that air contaminants were also retained indoors. By the late 1980’s, enough cases had emerged of people experiencing discomfort or various debilitating health problems—chronic respiratory issues, sinus infections, sore throats, headaches, and more—as a result of time spent in particular buildings that the phenomenon had been dubbed sick building syndrome (SBS). The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has estimated that 30 to 70 million American workers are affected by SBS, although the vast majority do not suffer serious health problems as a result of exposure.
With most Americans spending more than 90 percent of their lives working, learning, and spending leisure time indoors, indoor air quality has the potential to have profound impacts on the population’s health. Despite this fact, no comprehensive federal legislation has addressed indoor air quality in the United States; rather, various federal and state regulatory standards address indoor air quality by focusing on specific pollutants, activities, and types of structures.
Common indoor air pollutants include radon...
(The entire section is 480 words.)
Air Quality (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
In July, 1997, the EPA issued updated air-quality standards following the most complete scientific review process in the history of the organization. Based on the findings of this review, which was conducted by hundreds of internationally recognized scientists, industry experts, and public health officials, major steps were taken toward the improvement of environmental and public health through the revision of ozone standards for the first time in twenty years. In addition, annual exposure standards for fine particulate matter were introduced. (Short-term standards for coarse and fine particulates had been in place for a decade. Short-term standards that applied specifically to fine particulates were not introduced until 2006.) The EPA’s 1997 study concluded that many previously imposed standards were not resulting in enough protection for the environment and public health. Data indicated that repeated exposure to pollutants at levels previously considered to be acceptable could cause permanent lung damage in children and in adults who regularly exercise and work outdoors in many urban environments.
The EPA regularly reviews national air-quality standards for the Clean Air Act’s six priority air pollutants. Between 1990 and 2008 the Clean Air Act and its supporting legislation enabled national emissions reductions of 78 percent for lead, 14 percent for ozone, 68 percent for carbon monoxide, 35 percent for nitrogen dioxide, 59...
(The entire section is 521 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Bailey, Christopher J. Congress and Air Pollution: Environmental Politics in the US. New York: Manchester University Press, 1998.
Ferrey, Steven. “Air Quality Regulation.” In Environmental Law: Examples and Explanations. 5th ed. New York: Aspen, 2010.
Godish, Thad. “Regulation and Public Policy.” In Air Quality. 4th ed. Boca Raton, Fla.: Lewis, 2004.
Kessel, Anthony. Air, the Environment, and Public Health. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Melnick, R. Shep. Regulation and the Courts: The Case of the Clean Air Act. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1983.
Rushefsky, Mark E. “Environmental Policy: Challenges and Opportunities.” In Public Policy in the United States: At the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century. 4th ed. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2008.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act. Research Triangle Park, N.C.: Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, 2007.
(The entire section is 137 words.)