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Clean Air Act of 1963

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The Industrial Revolution wielded an unprecedented influence in the improvement of the economy of the United States ((IRWeb, n. d.). Along with the technological advances and the economic wealth, however, came the horrors of  pollution which resulted to serious environmental degradation in many parts of the United States (Rosen, 2003). The issue of air pollution, though, did not just emerge as an aftermath of the Industrial Revolution and is definitely not isolated to the United States. Fleming and Knorr (1999) traced a 1306 proclamation by the then King Edward I of England which outlawed the use of sea coal in London because of the ill-effects of the smoke emanating from it.

Here in the United States, however, efforts towards the control of air pollution became evident only during the Industrial Revolution.

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In the year 1881, Chicago and Cincinnati became the first two cities to promulgate laws  intended to promote clean air. Other cities, towns and regions followed suit and began to enact clean air legislations.

The Bureau of Mines, which operated under the Department of the Interior established the  Office of Air Pollution at the begininning of the 20th century  to control smoke emissions. The office was, however, short-lived because of its inactivity. Reported incidents of smog in the Los Angeles and Donora, Pennsylvania areas during the 1940s drew public attention once again on the issue of air pollution. The US government dealt with the issue on a national level in the year 1955 with the passage of the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955. The law was considered as the first in a series of clean air and air quality control acts which are still in effect and continue to be revised and amended (Fleming and  Knorr, 1999). The  Act also funded research for the scope and sources of air pollution  (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2006).

The Clean Air Act, originally passed in 1963, is the main force behind the control of air pollution in the United States.  However, important amendments were added to the legislation in both 1970 and 1990 in an effort by the US federal government to enforce a comprehensive scheme for mitigating air pollution. In a nutshell, the Clean Air Act as enacted by the US Congress in 1963 was a moderate bill (ThinkQuest, 1999) with the following main features : (1) it authorized the development of a national agenda to deal with environmental problems associated with air pollution;(2) it mandated the conduct of research on practices which will minimize air pollution; and (3) it batted for the establishment of state control agencies pollution  (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2006).

It was in 1965 when the federal government launched its first active role in the clean air policy when an amendment was instituted in the Clean Air Act of 1963 empowering the United States Department of Health to design and implement standards for car emissions. Five years later, in 1970, another amendment officially created authorization for the enforcement of the provisions of the Clean Air Act to the US federal government. This 1970 legislation continues to be the foundation of the US policy on air pollution control, with the following components : (1) it established the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which concentrated on major polluting chemicals and were aimed at protecting both human health and that of the environment; (2) the aforementioned standards were to be developed by the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was also tasked to design New Source Performance Standards in order to assay acceptable limits of pollution for various industries in the different regions; (3) the amendment to the Act delineated standards for monitoring and controlling vehicular emissions in order to effect the reduction of the different pollutant-gases by almost 90 percent; and (4) it encouraged the states to devise plans to comply with the standards specified in (3) and required that the state anti-pollution plans be approved by the EPA. The EPA was also mandated to enforce and administer the provisions of the Clean Air Act with states who will opt not to draw such plans or who will not be able to complete the plan on the target date as stipulated in the legislation.

The national framework in the implementation of the Clean Air Act revolved around the functions of three federal agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and the Mining Safety and Health Administration. The EPA is primarily charged on pollution to the environment, while the other two agencies deal with occupational air pollutants. State and local government agencies have their own laws and regulations, but are usually patterned after  those in use by the federal government (Environmental Literacy Council, 2007).

More amendments were appended to the Clean Air Act in 1977 to tackle concerns related to underachievement of the national objectives with respect to pollution emissions and with the formulation of measures for the improvement of air quality in areas which did not have previous problems with air pollution.

To date, the Clean Air Act was last amended in 1990. Such amendment was enacted to attend to problems associated with acid rain, toxic pollutants, ozone layer depletion and areas which have not yet achieved set standards of air quality (ThinkQuest, 1999). Particularly, 1990 amendments established acceptable concentrations of six criteria pollutants: ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (Environmental Literacy Council, 2007). Under this latest amendment, massive decreases in certain gas emissions were mandated in order to control acid rain; toxic pollutants were to be regulated even more; deadlines were set for the noncompliant areas; and three major chemical contributors to ozone layer depletion were phased-out (ThinkQuest, 1999). The chemicals included in the phase out are : Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons and carbon tetrachloride, considered as Class I chemicals which must be phased out by the year 2000; methylchloroform by 2002, but with more stringent interim reductions; and  Hydrochlorofluoro-carbons (HCFCs), considered as Class II chemicals, which  will be phased out by 2030 (US Environmental Protection Agency, n. d.).

In compliance with the Clean Air Act and its amendments, scattered across the numerous cities and towns of the US are air quality monitoring sites of state and local environmental agencies, which measure the extent or level of pollutants. Based on reports from the air monitoring sites, areas which do not measure up with  the EPA established air  quality standards are bound to adopt stringent courses of action in order to minimize pollutants, which may include but are not limited to imposition of stiffer emission standards for motor vehicles, use of alternative sources of energy and enforcing more rigid controls in business and industry.

Under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), and over  heightened controversy and debates, the EPA proposed for the imposition of more rigorous standards for particulate matter and ozone in 1996. Issues brought up were mostly related to the costs to be incurred in compliance to such standards and the potential benefits. Although regulations were issued in July of the following year, enforcement has been postponed.

In 2005, the EPA announced new regulations for clean air concerning power plant emissions of such toxic chemicals as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury. Under the Clean Air Interstate Rule, emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides will be reduced in 28 eastern states and Washington, D.C. On the other hand, the Clean Air Mercury Rule will reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by seventy percent by the 2018. (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2006).

Using a computer-assisted cost-benefit analysis, the US Environmental Protection Agency (2007) assessed that the total benefits of the Clean Air Act programs range from about $6 trillion to about $50 trillion, with a mean estimate of about $22 trillion. These benefits represent the value placed on avoidance due to dire air quality conditions and dramatic increases in illness and premature death which would have prevailed without the Clean Air Act and the supporting tate and local programs. In comparison, the actual costs of achieving the pollution reductions observed over a 20 year period were $523 billion – a value which the EPA itself believes to be a small fraction of the estimated monetary benefits of cleaner air. With or without this computer simulation, the implementation of the Clean Air Act since 1963 has been considered successful (Fleming & Knorr, 1999).

Before the enactment of the first Clean Air Act in the US in 1963, the atmosphere has been practically taken for  granted. The last forty years or so, however, witnessed how scientists, elected officials, and the public at large rallied to the cause of cleaner air. It is high time that people begin to contemplate and realize the effects of the pollutants on the air we breathe. Everytime we go out on a sight-seeing trip, call our friends using our mobile phones or bake lasagna in a microwave oven, we should also be aware that energy and resources used to transport people or to manufacture electronics and other devices may have contributed to the degradation of our environment, particularly, the air. It is now recognized that pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and particulates which are released into the atmosphere as a result of energy generation, industrial development, and use of motor vehicles, also have serious heath and environmental consequences. The Clean Air Act was a contribution of the American legislators towards minimization of air pollution. We can not rest on the initial success as reported by Fleming & Knorr. The continued success of the Clean Air Act rests on the hands of this generation. Our commitment to heed the call for a cleaner air will spell the difference on whether or not we succeed in looking after our own interests.


  1. Environmental Literacy Council. (2007, July 17). Clean Air Act. Retrieved January 5, 2008, from http://www.enviroliteracy.org/article.php/6.html.
  2. Fleming, J. R., & Knorr, B. R. (1999). History of the Clean Air Act. Retrieved January 5, 2008, from American Meteorological Society: http://www.ametsoc.org/sloan/cleanair/.
  3. IRWeb. (n. d.). IRWeb: Information Page. Retrieved January 5, 2008, from ThinkQuest: http://library.thinkquest.org/4132/info.htm.
  4. Rosen, C. M. (2003, October). ‘Knowing’ industrial pollution: Nuisance law and the power of tradition in a time of rapid economic change, 1840-1864. Retrieved January 5, 2008, from BNET Research Center: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3854/is_200310/ ai_n9330335.
  5. Schoenbrod, D. (n. d.). Why States, Not EPA, Should Set Pollution Standards. Retrieved January 5, 2008, from Cato Institute: http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation /reg19n4a.html.
  6. ThinkQuest. (1999). Clean Air Act. Retrieved January 5, 2008, from http://library.thinkquest.org/26026/Politics/clean_air_act.html.
  7. US Environmental Protection Agency. (2006, March 22). Module 7: Regulatory Requirements. Retrieved January 5, 2008, from http://www.epa.gov/eogapti1/module7/ caa/caa.htm.
  8. US Environmental Protection Agency. (n. d.). Overview: The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Retrieved January 5, 2008, from http://www.epa.gov/air/caa/overview.txt.
  9. US Environmental Protection Agency. (2007, March 7). Retrospective Study – Study Design and Summary of Results. Retrieved January 5, 2008, from http://epa.gov/air/sect812/design.html.


Cite this Clean Air Act of 1963

Clean Air Act of 1963. (2016, Sep 26). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/clean-air-act-of-1963/

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