Congress first established the Clean Air Act in 1970 and then made major revisions in 1977 and 1990. The Clean Air Act was developed in reaction to thick, visible air pollution experienced in many of the cities and industrial areas across the country. Since the start of the clean air act, we have seen significant emissions reductions and improvements in air quality in Minnesota and across the country.
Controlling common pollutants
To protect our health and the environment, the EPA sets National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six common pollutants, called “criteria pollutants.” All parts of the country must comply with these standards or take action to come into compliance. The Clean Air Act also provides the structure for coming into compliance, or “attaining” the standards.
States must develop plans, called State Implementation Plans, to achieve and then maintain compliance with the NAAQS. These plans include state rules, laws, and air pollution permits that will work to limit emissions. These plans must also limit emissions that move across state lines and may cause compliance problems in other states.
The EPA works to help the states comply with the NAAQS by developing standards for emission sources. The EPA has standards for vehicles, new and expanding industrial sources, and existing industrial sources. The EPA makes these standards more stringent as technology improves.
Other air pollution problems
The Clean Air Act includes specific sections to address other air pollution concerns including hazardous and toxic air pollutants, acid rain, chemicals that damage the stratospheric ozone layer, and regional haze.
The Clean Air Act was also written with broad authorities that allow the EPA to develop rules to address new pollution challenges that have developed since the Act first came to be. It is under these general authorities that EPA has been developing regulations to address greenhouse gases that cause climate change.