The Clean Air Act: A Vital Tool for Protecting Public Health and Combating Climate Change

As an expert in environmental policy and public health, I have witnessed firsthand the impact of the Clean Air Act on our society. This crucial legislation, which was passed 50 years ago, has played a significant role in keeping our air clean, fighting climate change, and safeguarding public health. Despite facing considerable controversy, particularly with the addition of global warming to the emissions limited by the Act, it remains one of the country's greatest environmental successes. In the United States, Congress and the fossil fuel industry have made numerous attempts to prevent or limit the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) based on its findings. This has been referred to as the 'Act on the Attack on Clean Air'.

However, despite these challenges, the Clean Air Act continues to be a vital tool for protecting public health and combating climate change. Before the Clean Air Act was enacted, many American cities were plagued with toxic pollution. The air was thick with a noxious haze that could be felt when walking outdoors. This led to respiratory and cardiovascular health problems, and premature death was common. However, thanks to the Clean Air Act, we have come a long way since then. The Act was born in 1970 as a result of an important amendment to previous laws.

It passed unanimously in the United States Senate and 374 to 1 in the House of Representatives before being signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 31, 1970. The EPA was established on December 2, 1970, and tasked with overseeing its implementation. The bipartisan law recognized the right to healthy air quality for future generations and aimed to protect it against corrosive industries that bought representatives for weak regulation and pitted one state against another. It was a pivotal moment when Congress recognized that state efforts alone were insufficient. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to establish national health standards for air pollution and review, update, and enforce these standards. It also gives states the responsibility of meeting and maintaining these standards at the local level.

The Act also includes technology-based emission standards, which are based on the most recent, efficient, and cost-effective technologies to control pollution from various sources. One of the remarkable qualities of the Clean Air Act is that its benefits can be seen and felt in many communities. The air is visibly cleaner and safer to breathe, resulting in fewer people entering hospitals with heart and respiratory problems caused by smog. This also means that more people can avoid missing school or work due to illness. In addition to protecting public health, the Clean Air Act also plays a critical role in combating climate change. Early research has shown a link between higher levels of soot pollution and higher mortality rates due to COVID-19 and its variants.

As an organization dedicated to environmental protection, NRDC has been a strong supporter of clean air for the benefit of public health and the climate. Our policy and scientific experts have been fighting for decades, advising and testifying before Congress to advocate for greater protection and combat gaps in dirty fossil fuel matter. Our litigation team also works to defend the integrity of the Clean Air Act by suing polluters and, at times, even the EPA itself. Along with our activists, we continue to demand that our elected officials prioritize people over profits.

Raúl Milloy
Raúl Milloy

Proud music aficionado. Unapologetic tvaholic. Proud zombie evangelist. Unapologetic coffee geek. Hipster-friendly zombie expert. Extreme student.