6 U.S. Clean Air Act Milestones


(ref: Environmental Protection Agency, epa.gov )

Everything is ConnectedThe Clean Air Act is making the news due to a proposed amendment by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. This would effectively block President Barack Obama and the EPA from holding the nation’s biggest polluters accountable for the carbon dioxide they produce and a major step backwards in addressing climate change.

Current legal authority for federal programs and particularly the Environmental Protection Agency regarding air pollution control is based on the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments which is usually referred to as the Clean Air Act of 1990. This legislation modified and extended federal legal authority provided by the earlier Clean Air Acts of 1963 and 1970. The EPA describes the following milestones in the evolution of the Clean Air Act as it exists today.

1. The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955

  • First federal air pollution legislation
  • Funded research for scope and sources of air pollution

The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 was the first federal legislation involving air pollution. This Act provided funds ($5 million dollars/year for 5 years) for federal research in air pollution but despite the word “control” in the name of the legislation it had no regulation component.

2. Clean Air Act of 1963

  • Authorized the development of a national program to address air pollution related environmental problems
  • Authorized research into techniques to minimize air pollution

The Clean Air Act of 1963 was the first federal legislation regarding air pollution control. It established a federal program within the U.S. Public Health Service and authorized research into techniques for monitoring and controlling air pollution.

3. Air Quality Act of 1967

  • Authorized enforcement procedures for air pollution problems involving interstate transport of pollutants
  • Authorized expanded research activities

The Air Quality Act of 1967 was enacted in order to expand federal government activities. Under this law, the federal government started to regulate interstate air pollution transport. For the first time, the federal government also conducted extensive ambient monitoring studies and stationary source inspections.

4. Clean Air Act 1970

  • Authorized the establishment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards
  • Established requirements for State Implementation Plans to achieve the National Ambient Air Quality Standards
  • Authorized the establishment of New Source Performance Standards for new and modified stationary sources
  • Authorized the establishment of National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants
  • Increased enforcement authority
  • Authorized requirements for control of motor vehicle emissions

The enactment of the Clean Air Act of 1970 resulted in a major shift in the federal government’s role in air pollution control. This legislation authorized the development of comprehensive federal and state regulations to limit emissions from both stationary (industrial) sources and mobile sources. Four major regulatory programs affecting stationary sources were initiated: the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS, pronounced “knacks”), State Implementation Plans (SIPs), New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs). Furthermore, the enforcement authority was substantially expanded.

The adoption of this very important legislation occurred at approximately the same time as the National Environmental Policy Act that established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On December 4th, 1970, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by Executive Order to implement the various requirements included in the Clean Air Act.

5. 1977 Amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1970

  • Authorized provisions related to the Prevention of Significant Deterioration
  • Authorized provisions relating to areas which are non-attainment with respect to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards

The 1977 CAA amendments set more rigorous requirements for reducing emissions in areas that do not meet the NAAQS and established the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) regulations for areas that already meet the NAAQS.  The PSD regulations are designed to prevent any significant deterioration in air quality above an established baseline level.

6. 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1970

  • Authorized programs for Acid Deposition Control
  • Authorized a program to control 189 toxic pollutants, including those previously regulated by the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants
  • Established permit program requirements
  • Expanded and modified provisions concerning the attainment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards
  • Expanded and modified enforcement authority

The 1990 amendments to the CAA in large part were intended to meet unaddressed or insufficiently addressed problems such as acid rain, ground-level ozone, stratospheric ozone depletion, visibility, and air toxics.


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