The Clean Air Act of 1970: What is it?

Since 2010, more than 200 coal plants have retired across the United States and many are citing competition from cheaper energy sources as the cause. As regulations on coal have been put into place it has become less cost-effective to produce and burn coal for power increased. Most of these regulations stem from the Clean Air Act of 1970. But what exactly is it and what effect has it had on the environment and the economy?

Prior to the introduction of the act, there were actually three other legislative decisions that were put in effect. In 1955, the federal government passed the first legislation regulating air pollution in the United States called The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955. Next, the Clean Air Act of 1963 went into place followed by the Air Quality Act of 1976. All of these focused primarily on establishing funding for research on air pollution and creating introductory procedures for dealing with air pollution.

Finally, in 1970, the Clean Air Act that is primarily referenced today was created. In the same year, the Environmental Protection Agency was created in order to help regulate and carry out the laws set forth by the act. The Clean Air Act of 1970 was amended twice, once in 1977 and again in 1990. Although both of these revisions dramatically changed the act, the revision in 1990 gave more power to the federal government to enforce rules that were set by the act, established permit program requirement and approved several programs to control various types of pollutants.

Many, including the current administration, believe that regulations on emissions such as this and the Clean Power Plan are weakening the economy because these regulations are causing coal plants to shrink or shut down completely. However, the economy has actually grown while regulations like this have gone into effect. In the 48 years the Clean Air Act of 1970 has been in place, the United States has been able to reduce acid rain, achieve health benefits such as reducing the likelihood of premature death and health issues as a result of particulate matter and ozone, and even cleared up the view at national parks.

But, as current regulations are beginning to fall away, it’s uncertain what effects we will see reversed. Some theorize that it will result in more deaths and health issues, especially in coal states like Ohio. Will legislature take these numbers and concerns seriously? Or will they be downplayed in order to help these coal plants that employ thousands of individuals? Only time will tell. 

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