Clean Air Act (United States)

Clean Air Act (United States)
Clean Air Act
Great Seal of the United States.
Full title Clean Air Act of 1963
Acronym CAA
Effective Dec. 17, 1963
Public Law P.L. 88-206
Stat. 77 Stat. 392
Title(s) amended 42
U.S.C. sections created 7401
Legislative history
Major amendments
Air Quality Act of 1967 (81 Stat. 485, P.L. 90-148)
Clean Air Act Extension of 1970 (84 Stat. 1676, P.L. 91-604
Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977 (91 Stat. 685, P.L. 95-95)
Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 (104 Stat. 2468, P.L. 101-549)
Relevant Supreme Court cases
Union Elec. Co. v. EPA, 427 U.S. 246 (1976)
Chevron USA v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984).

The Clean Air Act is a United States federal law enacted by Congress, and signed by President Richard Nixon on December 31, 1970 to control air pollution on a national level. It requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and enforce regulations to protect the general public from exposure to airborne contaminants that are known to be hazardous to human health. The Act was passed in 1963 and significantly amended in 1970, 1977 and 1990.

The Clean Air Act is significant in that it was the first major environmental law in the United States to include a provision for citizen suits. Numerous state and local governments have enacted similar legislation, either implementing federal programs or filling in locally important gaps in federal programs.

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 proposed emissions trading, added provisions for addressing acid rain, ozone depletion and toxic air pollution, and established a national permits program. The amendments also established new auto gasoline reformulation requirements, set Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) standards to control evaporative emissions from gasoline, and mandated that the new gasoline formulations be sold from May to September in many states.


Components of Air Pollution Prevention and Control

Counties in the United States where one or more National Ambient Air Quality Standards are not met, as of June 2007.

Title I - Programs and Activities

Part A - Air Quality and Emissions Limitations

Part B - Ozone Protection

In light of advancements in understanding of atmospheric chemistry, this section was replaced by Title VI in 1990.[1]

These changes reflect a significant change in scientific understanding about how ozone is formed and depleted. Specifically, ozone's absorption spectrum covers UVC light and shorter wave UVB, letting through UVA (which is largely harmless to people). Ozone exists in the stratosphere, not the troposphere, exhibiting a lateral distribution because it is destroyed by strong sunlight; there is more at the poles. Ozone is made naturally when O2 comes in contact with photons from solar radiation. Therefore a decrease in the intensity of solar radiation also results in a decrease in the formation of ozone in the stratosphere. This exchange is known as the Chapman mechanism:

O2 + UV photon → 2 O (note that atmospheric oxygen as O is highly unstable)
O + O2 + M → O3 (O3 is Ozone) + M

where M represents a third molecule necessary to carry off the excess energy of the collision of O + O2. Depletion of Ozone occurs in the presence of Freon and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Following discovery of the Ozone hole in 1974, the 1987 Montreal Protocol was successful in implementing a plan to replace CFCs. The speed and cooperation of the Montreal Protocol is viewed by some environmentalists as an example of what is possible for the future of environmental issues, if the political will can be garnered.

Part C - Prevention of Significant Deterioration of Air Quality

Major stationary sources of air pollution and certain modifications to those sources are required by the Act to a obtain an air permit before commencing construction. This permitting process is known as New Source Review (NSR). The NSR program applies to sources that are located in areas that meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards ("attainment areas"), sources in areas that do not meet the NAAQS (nonattainment areas), and areas that are unclassifiable with respect to the NAAQS. Permits for sources in attainment or unclassifiable areas are referred to as Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) of air quality permits, while permits for sources located in nonattainment areas are referred to as nonattainment area (NAA) permits.[2] The fundamental goals of the PSD program are to:

  1. prevent the development of new nonattainment areas by ensuring that economic growth occurs in harmony with the preservation of existing clean air resources;
  2. protect public health and welfare from any adverse effects which might occur even in areas with air quality that meets the NAAQS; and
  3. preserve and enhance the air quality in national parks and other areas of special natural recreational, scenic, or historic value.[3]

Part D - Plan Requirements for Nonattainment Areas

Title II - Emission Standards for Moving Sources

Part A - Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards (CAA § 201-219; USC § 7521-7554)

This part of the bill was extremely contentious at the time it was passed. The automobile industry argued that they could not meet the new standards and Senators expressed concern about the impact of this part of the legislation, in particular, on the economy. Specific new emissions standards for moving sources passed years later. Jevons paradox has done away with much of the system-gains in automobile efficiency since then.   Because cars are more efficient, driving is less costly, so people now drive more on average, and this increased driving has overwhelmed the energy savings gained by the initial improvements in fuel efficiency. This same problem may be observed in the broader commercial sense when things are made more efficiently, driving down costs, so more units are sold, so that incremental improvements are overcome. This is what is so often lauded as improving profits and quality of life, but is environmentally damaging. Meanwhile, the focus is usually on the success of the solution, so drumming up further political support for the issue may be difficult. If individuals, corporations, and nations can externalize their costs, they will.

Part B - Aircraft Emission Standards

Part C - Clean Fuel Vehicles

Title III - General Provisions

Title IV - Noise Pollution

Title IV A - Acid Deposition Control

Title V - Permits

Title VI - Stratospheric Ozone Protection



The first Clean Air Act was passed in 1963 and created a regulatory program in the U.S. Public Health Service.[4] The 1967 Air Quality Act mandated enforcement of interstate air pollution standards and authorized ambient monitoring studies and stationary source inspections.[5]

In the Clean Air Act Extension of 1970, Congress greatly expanded the federal mandate by requiring comprehensive federal and state regulations for both industrial and mobile sources.[6] The law established four new regulatory programs:

The 1970 law is sometimes called the "Muskie Act" because of the central role Maine Senator Edmund Muskie played in drafting the bill.[8]

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977 required Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) of air quality for areas attaining the NAAQS, and added requirements for non-attainment areas.[9]

The 1990 Clean Air Act added regulatory programs for control of acid deposition (acid rain) and stationary source operating permits. The NESHAPs program was expanded to control additional toxic air pollutants, and the NAAQS program was also expanded. Other new provisions covered stratospheric ozone protection, increased enforcement authority, and expanded research programs.[10]


Since the initial establishment of six mandated criteria pollutants (ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and lead), advancements in testing and monitoring have led to the discovery of many other significant air pollutants.[11]

In 1997 EPA tightened the NAAQS regarding permissible levels of the ground-level ozone that make up smog and the fine airborne particulate matter that makes up soot.[12][13] The decision came after months of public review of the proposed new standards, as well as long and fierce internal discussion within the Clinton administration, leading to the most divisive environmental debate of that decade.[14] The new regulations were challenged in the courts by industry groups as a violation of the U.S. Constitution's nondelegation principle and eventually landed in the U.S. Supreme Court,[13] whose 2001 unanimous ruling in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc. largely upheld EPA's actions.[15]

Roles of the federal government and states

Although the 1990 Clean Air Act is a federal law covering the entire country, the states do much of the work to carry out the Act. The EPA has allowed the individual states to elect responsibility for compliance with and regulation of the CAA within their own borders in exchange for funding. For example, a state air pollution agency holds a hearing on a permit application by a power or chemical plant or fines a company for violating air pollution limits. However, election is not mandatory and in some cases states have chosen to not accept responsibility for enforcement of the act and force the EPA to assume those duties.

In order to take over compliance with the CAA the states must write and submit a state implementation plan (SIP) to the EPA for approval. A state implementation plan is a collection of the regulations a state will use to clean up polluted areas. The states are obligated to notify the public of these plans, through hearings that offer opportunities to comment, in the development of each state implementation plan. The SIP becomes the state's legal guide for local enforcement of the CAA. For example, Rhode Island law requires compliance with the Federal CAA through the SIP.[16] The SIP delegates permitting and enforcement responsibility to the state Department of Environmental Management (RI-DEM).

The federal law recognizes that states should lead in carrying out the Clean Air Act, because pollution control problems often require special understanding of local industries, geography, housing patterns, etc. However, states are not allowed to have weaker pollution controls than the national minimum criteria set by EPA. EPA must approve each SIP, and if a SIP isn't acceptable, EPA can take over CAA enforcement in that state.

The United States government, through the EPA, assists the states by providing scientific research, expert studies, engineering designs, and money to support clean air programs.

Metropolitan Planning Organizations must approve all federally-funded transportation projects in a given urban area. If the MPO's plans do not Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration have the authority to withhold funds if the plans do not conform with federal requirements, including air quality standards.[17] In 2010, the EPA directly fined the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District $29 million for failure to meet ozone standards, resulting in fees for county drivers and businesses. This was the results of a federal appeals court case that required the EPA to continue enforce older, stronger standards,[18] and spurred debate in Congress over amending the Act.[19]

Interstate air pollution

Air pollution often travels from its source in one state to another state. In many metropolitan areas, people live in one state and work or shop in another; air pollution from cars and trucks may spread throughout the interstate area. The 1990 Clean Air Act provides for interstate commissions on air pollution control, which are to develop regional strategies for cleaning up air pollution. The 1990 Clean Air Act includes other provisions to reduce interstate air pollution.

The Acid Rain Program, created under Title IV of the Act, authorizes emissions trading to reduce the overall cost of controlling emissions of sulfur dioxide.

Leak detection and repair

The Act requires industrial facilities to implement a Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) program to monitor and audit a facility's fugitive emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC).

The program is intended to identify and repair components such as valves, pumps, compressors, flanges, connectors and other components that may be leaking. These components are the main source of the fugitive VOC emissions.

Testing is done manually using a portable vapor analyzer that read in parts per million (ppm). Monitoring frequency, and the leak threshold, is determined by various factors such as the type of component being tested and the chemical running through the line. Moving components such as pumps and agitators are monitored more frequently than non-moving components such as flanges and screwed connectors. The regulations require that when a leak is detected the component be repaired within a set amount of days. Most facilities get 5 days for an initial repair attempt with no more than 15 days for a complete repair. Allowances for delaying the repairs beyond the allowed time are made for some components where repairing the component requires shutting process equipment down.

Application to greenhouse gas emissions

EPA began regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs) from mobile and stationary sources of air pollution under the Clean Air Act for the first time on January 2, 2011. Standards for mobile sources have been established pursuant to Section 202 of the CAA, and GHGs from stationary sources are controlled under the authority of Part C of Title I of the Act. See Regulation of Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act.


Robert Fri argues in “How Environmental Forces Shape Energy Futures” that energy and environmental policy making are inextricably linked. This perspective is echoed by many others including Robert Friedman and Rosa Bierbaum in their article “The Bumpy Road to Reduced Carbon Emissions.”[citation needed] Characteristics of environmental drivers include the need for an empirical understanding of the costs and benefits of pollution reduction and how they accrue to different groups. Where benefits and costs accrue to different players, conflict is increased. Over time, the mix of costs and benefits has shifted. Pollution used to be primarily local, and the same people used to reap the benefits and benefits of whatever system was used. Extensive distribution and higher levels of more centralized production have changed this system to be less democratic. Increased NIMBYism has meant that those who reap the benefits (such as electricity or heating) often are not exposed to the immediate environmental costs (contaminated air or water). The energy/environment relationship has been changed by negative externalities accruing where and when people do not connect them with their own behavior and choices. Trans-boundary pollution changed this and politically changed pollution as a national issue. This was particularly true in Northern Europe in the second half of the 20th century and provided the impetus for some of the first real controls on industrial pollution, including the Clean Air Act.

Some people believe that the traditional model of exponential growth is anachronistic. John Gibbons advocates in “Conservator Society Still a Dream” for an “equilibrium oriented model”, proposing that where in the economy cost factors are incorporated matters less than widespread recognition that it is necessary to include such factors in market pricing. A further alternative policy to the Clean Air Act might include efforts to build consensus in the economic sector on how to incorporate environmental costs and benefits into National Accounts. Although this will be a very data-intensive process, as evidenced by the beginnings of such an undertaking by the Dutch in recent years, it is useful for the policy-making process, and invaluable for making informed decision. The derived conventional wisdom is limited and problematic without such an empirical basis for making assessments about tradeoffs between the Natural environment and the economy.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, DC. "Title VI - Stratospheric Ozone Protection." Updated 2008-12-19.
  2. ^ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (1990). New Source Review Workshop Manual: Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Nonattainment Area Permitting.
  3. ^ NSR Workshop Manual, p. 3
  4. ^ Clean Air Act of 1963, Pub.L. 88-206, 77 Stat. 392, 1963-12-17.
  5. ^ EPA. "History of the Clean Air Act." Updated 2010-11-16.
  6. ^ Clean Air Act Extension of 1970, 84 Stat. 1676, Pub.L. 91-604, 1970-12-31.
  7. ^ EPA. "National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)." Updated 2011-04-18.
  8. ^ "Muskie Act". Toyota Motor Corp.. 
  9. ^ Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977, Pub.L. 95-95, 91 Stat. 685, 1977-08-07.
  10. ^ Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, Pub.L. 101-549, 104 Stat. 2399, 1990-11-15.
  11. ^ EPA. "What Are the Six Common Air Pollutants?" Revised 2010-07-01.
  12. ^ Cushman Jr., John H. (June 26, 1997). "Clinton Sharply Tightens Air Pollution Regulations Despite Concern Over Costs". New York Times. 
  13. ^ a b Chebium, Raju (November 7, 2000). "U.S. Supreme Court hears clean air cases regarding smog and soot standards". CNN. 
  14. ^ Cushman Jr., John H. (June 25, 1997). "D'Amato Vows to Fight for E.P.A.'s Tightened Air Standards". New York Times. 
  15. ^ Greenhouse, Linda (2001-02-28). "E.P.A.'s Right to Set Air Rules Wins Supreme Court Backing". New York Times. 
  16. ^ Rhode Island General Law, Title 23, Chapter 23, Section 2 (RIGL 23-23-2).
  17. ^
  18. ^ Nelson, Gabriel (2011-07-01). "D.C. Circuit Rejects EPA's Latest Guidance on Smog Standards". The New York Times. 
  19. ^

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