The Clean Air Act, Title 1: Air Pollution Prevention and Control

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The Clean Air Act, Title 1: Air Pollution Prevention and Control

Part A: Air Quality and Emissions Limitations, Section101: Findings and Purposes


By: Anonymous

Date: November 15, 1990

Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency.

About the Author: The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established by President Richard Nixon in 1970 to draft, administer, and enforce national standards for air and water purity. The EPA enforces laws like the Clean Air Act, carries out environmental research, and sponsors various pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts.


The Clean Air Act (CAA) was passed in 1970, the year the EPA was created. The act marked the launch of a vigorous and ambitious campaign to improve air quality by requiring federal, state, and local governments to work together to administer environmental legislation like the CAA.

Air pollution is the contamination of air with substances that can harm human health or cause environmental damage. Much of the CAA's purview involves identifying pollutants and setting maximum concentration levels, standards above which exposure is more likely to lead to harm. The CAA identifies two types of standards: primary standards, which are intended to protect human health; and less-stringent secondary standards, which protect property and the environment, including wildlife.

The CAA monitors ground-level ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, lead, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and carbon monoxide and dioxide, as well as particulate matter. Their effects are complex and varied, depending upon the level and duration of exposure. Exposure to air pollution can lead to asthma and other lung diseases, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, cancer, and brain damage.

Vehicle emissions and the combustion of fossil fuels are the two main sources of air pollution. With remedies imposed by the CAA, nearly four decades after it was enacted, emissions have been greatly reduced, thanks to cleaner cars, factories, and homes. The CAA amendments of 1990, excerpted below, intensified and renewed the provisions of the CAA, building upon the achievements of its first two decades.




        Part A—Air Quality and Emission Limitations


Sec. 101 (a) The Congress finds—

(1) that the predominant part of the Nation's population is located in its rapidly expanding metropolitan and other urban areas, which generally cross the boundary lines of local jurisdictions and often extend into two or more States;

(2) that the growth in the amount and complexity of air pollution brought about by urbanization, industrial development, and the increasing use of motor vehicles, has resulted in mounting dangers to the public health and welfare, including injury to agricultural crops and livestock, damage to and the deterioration of property, and hazards to air and ground transportation;

(3) that air pollution prevention (that is, the reduction or elimination, through any measures, of the amount of pollutants produced or created at the source) and air pollution control at its source is the primary responsibility of States and local governments; and

(4) that Federal financial assistance and leadership is essential for the development of cooperative Federal, State, regional, and local programs to prevent and control air pollution.

(b) The purposes of this title are—

(1) to protect and enhance the quality of the Nation's air resources so as to promote the public health and welfare and the productive capacity of its population;

(2) to initiate and accelerate a national research and development program to achieve the prevention and control of air pollution;

(3) to provide technical and financial assistance to State and local governments in connection with the development and execution of their air pollution prevention and control programs; and

(4) to encourage and assist the development and operation of regional air pollution prevention and control programs.

(c) Pollution Prevention.—A primary goal of this Act is to encourage or otherwise promote reasonable Federal, State, and local governmental actions, consistent with the provisions of this Act, for pollution prevention.

[42 U.S.C. 7401]


Ten years after the introduction of the CAA amendments, a panel of economists, scientists, and public health experts analyzed computer models to estimate what health gains might be expected from controlling air pollution. Setting their sights on the year 2010, they predicted the legislation would prevent 23,000 premature deaths and nearly two million asthma attacks a year. In addition, as many as 22,000 hospital admissions for lung disease, 42,000 for heart disease and 5,000 emergency room visits for asthma could be avoided with cleaner air.

A 2005 review suggested that the Acid Rain Program inaugurated by the amendments had been particularly successful, having reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by five million tons and nitrogen oxide emissions by three million tons from 1990 levels. The resultant decline in acid deposition has reduced damage to buildings, trees, and lakes.

Most U.S. cities and communities have much cleaner air, with total emissions of major air pollutants reduced by more than 50 percent. Three-quarters of the country now meets the National Air Quality Standards stipulated by the amendments. In addition, stricter controls on vehicle emissions have significantly reduced emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.

Of course, much remains to be done. A major issue is global warming—the increase in Earth's temperature, which may correspond to levels of so-called "greenhouse gases" (such as carbon dioxide) that result from burning fossil fuels. Scientists disagree over the causes of global warming and if action can be taken to prevent it. The CAA alone cannot cure all of the planet's environmental concerns—although it can improve the health of Americans and their immediate environment.


Web sites

Climate Ark—Climate Change Portal. "Benefits of Clean Air Act Amendments Tallied." 〈〉 (accessed December 5, 2005).

Department of Energy Environmental Policy and Guidance. "Clean Air Act." 〈〉 (accessed December 5, 2005).

Environmental Protection Agency. "15th Anniversary of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990." 〈〉 (accessed December 5, 2005).

National Safety Council. A Division of the National Safety Council. "Section 1: Background on Air Pollution." 〈〉 (accessed December 5, 2005).