Regulation and the Courts: The Case of the Clean Air Act

By R. Shep Melnick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Air Pollution Regulation, 1970-80

The air program is probably the most intellectually thin program we've got and it is the most overbuilt in terms of the law and the structure and the size. . . . That's a program that really has a church history problem. Every single congressional battle and staff battle is relevant to understanding why you're at the point you are now. --EPAAdministratorDouglas Costle

WHEN President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, many environmentalists feared his administration would convince Congress to weaken the Clean Air Act, the flagship of the environmental protection fleet. Reducing the burden of federal regulation was a major plank in Reagan's platform, and much of his criticism was aimed at environmental regulation. To make matters worse, the act's authorization ran out in 1981, necessitating some form of congressional action. The Senate, which in the past had strongly supported the act, was now in Republican hands. Especially after Reagan's surprising legislative victories on the budget and taxes, major revision of the act seemed near.

In December 1982, though, proposed amendments to the act died quietly in committee. The House committee remained internally divided. Legislation supported by the Senate committee was unacceptable to the White House. Some observers doubt that a major revision of the Clean Air Act will become law before the 1984 presidential election.

What is most striking about this sequence of events is not the failure of the Reagan administration to produce quick, major changes in the act, but the similarities between 1981-82 and two prior periods, 1973- 74 and 1976-77. In 1973, after the Arab oil embargo, President Richard M. Nixon proposed emergency energy legislation that would relax key provisions of the Clean Air Act. Despite calls for action to meet the energy crisis, Congress did not pass a bill Nixon would sign until mid- 1974. That legislation, the Energy Supply and Environmental Coordination Act,1 contained few revisions of the Clean Air Act. The sponsors

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1
88 Stat. 258.

-24-

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