The Clean Air Act was first put into place in 1955. Since then, it has received three major revisions. The first two revisions took place in the 1970s and the last in 1990. Over the decades since its creation, the Clean Air Act has given the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to keep our air clean and safe. But how does this law affect you? Few people truly understand it.
The truth is that the law does many things all at once. A report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) outlines eight key provisions.
Eight key points
The CRS summary of the Clean Air Act does not attempt to fully detail the law’s reach and impact. However, it provides a clear picture of the eight key ways the law helps keep our air safe:
- Authorizes the EPA to set standards for air quality
- Forces state and local governments to implement standards under deadline
- Grants the EPA the right to set emission standards that limit air pollution
- Sets up a cap-and-trade program designed to limit acid rain
- Prevents harm to areas that currently have clean air
- Establishes a program to rid national parks and wilderness areas of regional haze
- Phases out chemicals that harm the ozone
- Establishes 187 hazardous materials, including asbestos, as controlled substances
This last point is notable as these materials, like asbestos, can be silent killers. While many people find it hard to wrap their heads around concepts like ozone depletion and climate change, these hazardous substances can cause significant, personal harm.
Asbestos exposure, alone, can lead to such problems as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. There is no level of exposure that’s known to be safe, and some people have developed cancers due only to second-hand exposure.
Key benefits of the Clean Air Act
The Clean Air Act’s eight key provisions give the EPA, state and local governments a great deal of power to restrict certain activities. Businesses have historically claimed the Clean Air Act is an undue hardship, but the EPA asserts the benefits far outweigh the costs. In fact, the EPA argues that the Clean Air Act benefits the American people 30 times more than it hinders them.
The most important of these benefits are to the public health. Since the Clean Air Act has been in place, the EPA claims it has led to:
- Steady progression in reduced air pollution
- Over 230,000 fewer premature deaths
- Over 200,000 fewer heart attacks
- The reclamation of more than 17 million workdays that would have been lost to health problems
- The reclamation of more than 5.4 million school days
Punishment for those who take shortcuts with your health
Of course, the Clean Air Act would be toothless without the threat of enforcement. But the law allows the EPA and state governments to prosecute people and businesses that break it. As a result, it is not uncommon to read reports about contractors facing charges for ignoring the EPA’s standards for controlling hazardous materials.
It seems like every month there are new charges, like those against the Los Angeles man whose company illegally released and dumped asbestos during its renovation of two Las Vegas apartment complexes.
Businesses need a reminder to value your health
Businesses, like the L.A. contractor’s business, exist to make money. Every day, they make countless decisions aimed at minimizing costs and maximizing profits. The Clean Air Act exists partly to make sure that businesses can’t simply choose to ignore your health.
Because the Clean Air Act exists, the EPA has researched the harmful effects of asbestos and other substances. It has determined how much of those materials may be safe in the environment. It has established guidelines for keeping them out of the air. And it allows the government to prosecute those who take shortcuts and risk your health and the health of others.