The Clean Air Act Explained

The Clean Air Act (CAA) is a comprehensive federal law which regulates air emissions from industrial and mobile sources. This law authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in order to safeguard the health and welfare of the US public, and regulate the emission of hazardous air pollutants.


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The Clean Air Act was a pioneering piece of legislation because it was the first major environmental law in the United States to include a provision for citizen suits. As a result, several state and local governments have instigated similar legislation; either implementing new federal programs or hiring teams of environmental lawyers, such as Gullands and Pinnington Law to correct any legislative oversights within current federal programs.

Since its implementation in 1963, the Clean Air Act has been amended several times in order to bring about more advanced regulatory controls for air pollution. For example, in 1970 the Act was amended to substantially expand the federal mandate in order to bring about federal and state regulations for both industrial and mobile pollution as well as significantly expanding the federal enforcement of these policies.

One of the primary objectives of the Clean Air Act was to establish and attain NAAQS within every US state by 1975. The fundamental aim behind this objective was to comprehensively combat the public health and welfare risks posed by widespread air pollutants throughout the US. Subsequently the Clean Air Act devised an initiative to develop state implementation plans across the country. These SIPs were designed to work diligently in order to enforce sufficient environmental standards and prevent any pollution risks within their states. However, the Act was amended both in 1977 and 1990 to allocate new deadlines for achieving NAAQS within every US state. This was due to the fact that many states had not yet met their assigned deadlines.


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In 1990 further amendments were made to the Clean Air Act in order to combat the threats posed by acid rain, ozone depletion and toxic air pollution. These amendments also instigated a national permits program for industrial pollution sources as well as increasing the powers of the relevant authorities who enforced these initiatives. Furthermore, new auto gasoline reformulation requirements were initiated, alongside new Reid vapour pressure standards. These RVP standards were designed to control evaporative emissions from gasoline and also mandate new gasoline formulations which were sold throughout various US states.

For 50 years, the Clean Air Act has protected Americans from pollution-related health and welfare problems. A peer-reviewed study carried out by the EPA in 2011 revealed that, in 2010, the reductions in fine particle pollution and ozone pollution achieved by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 was responsible for preventing over 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, millions of cases of respiratory problems and more than 86,000 hospital admissions. The Clean Air Act subsequently prevented 13 million lost work days as well as 3.2 million lost schooldays due to respiratory illnesses and other ailments which would have been caused or exacerbated by these air pollutants. Therefore, it is fair to say that the Clean Air Act has had a substantial effect on improving the health and welfare of the US public, which in turn facilitates a stronger, more productive US economy.


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