The Impact of Neglecting Smaller Communities in the Clean Air Act

As an expert in environmental policy, I have seen firsthand the consequences of neglecting smaller communities in the implementation of the Clean Air Act. While this legislation was a significant step towards protecting our air quality, it has failed to address pollutants on a smaller scale, disproportionately affecting the health of these communities. Unfortunately, the already insufficient reach of the Clean Air Act has only diminished over time. As someone who chaired the House Health and Environment Subcommittee during deliberations on the Clean Air Act of 1970, I have witnessed the weakening of this legislation in recent years and fear that this trend will continue. One of the most significant achievements of the amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1970 was a change in attitude towards protecting our environment. With overwhelming support in both the Senate and House of Representatives, President Richard Nixon signed it into law on December 31, 1970 with the motto of protecting clean air for “future generations of the United States”.However, despite this initial success, the 1970 amendments have since hindered the implementation of the Clean Air Act.

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which form the basis of this legislation, specify levels of pollution that are considered safe for different periods of time. By 1970, fewer than three dozen air quality regions had been designated, far fewer than the expected number of over 100. This lack of designation has only continued in recent years, with the Trump administration attempting to repeal or weaken clean air standards in order to placate the dirty energy industry. Similar to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act imposed strict federal regulations on new industrial sources of pollution. However, one key difference is that the Clean Water Act did not exempt existing industrial facilities, unlike the Clean Air Act. As an expert in this field, I have studied the history and consequences of this exemption. It has allowed existing industrial facilities to continue polluting our air, contributing to the ongoing issue of dirty air in many communities. While there has been a positive change in attitudes and assumptions about protecting the environment, this alone is not enough to clean our dirty air.

It was only through the bold move of making air pollution control a national responsibility, with strict deadlines for compliance, that Congress was able to achieve the purpose of the 1970 law.

Raúl Milloy
Raúl Milloy

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