The Clean Air Act is an air pollution control bill that,when passed in 50 years ago, was revolutionary for its time as it introduced environmental protection legislation that had never before been considered. Despite resistance from industries concerned that the bill would impede their production levels and profits, the bill was passed unanimously by the American Congress.

Throughout the ’60s, public concern for the environment grew at a rapid pace while the quality of the air and water in American cities was worsening dramatically. As tensions rose between environmentalists and major polluting businesses, it became clear that federal action would be required to control emissions. Consequently, the Clean Air Act was drafted using scientific measures uninfluenced by politics and economics to address air pollution.

The Act established standards which not only forced businesses to make use of the most efficient technology to reduce their emissions, but supported lawsuits brought against those companies which disregarded the environment. This was achieved through the following components:

  • the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS),
  • State Implementation Plans (SIPs),
  • New Source Performance Standards (NSPS),
  • and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs)

Amendments were made to the act to extend deadlines (to reduce emissions) that had not yet been met and to introduce further standards for new technology and developments in the environment.

The most important regulation of the Act are the NAAQS (pronounced “knacks”) which regulate emissions from stationary and mobile sources to address health risks in each state. NAAQS are implemented by both major sources (stationary sources that emit up to 10 tonnes or more of a hazardous pollutant or 25 tonnes of a combination of pollutants each year) and area sources (stationary sources which emit less than major sources). Since the bill was passed in 1970, major reductions in ground-level ozone (responsible for many harmful respiratory diseases) have been recorded in addition to a 92% decrease in lead pollution. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains that much progress has been made in improving American air quality even though energy consumption and distances driven by Americans has increased since 1990. Despite concerns from large industries, the Clean Air Act has not diminished their growth and as a result, the economy has not suffered.

The Clean Air Act is a critical piece of legislation which has had a large positive effect on the reduction of hazardous emissions which, as a result of a $500 billion investment into meeting the standards enforced by the act, has saved the lives of an estimated 200,000 people equating to economic savings of $50 trillion.