Controlling Industrial Pollution: The Economics and Politics of Clean Air

By Robert W. Crandall | Go to book overview

II
The Effectiveness of Clean Air Policy

It is frequently asserted that the air is less polluted than in 1970 and that government environmental policies are responsible for the improvement. For instance, the National Commission on Air Quality ( NCAQ) concluded:

Since [ 1970] . . . the absolute level of improvement for the most widespread air pollutants has been significant. . . .

More significant than the level of absolute reductions, however, is the difference between current pollution levels and those that would have occurred if major control efforts had not been required . . . it is clear that for a number of pollutants the level of emissions would now be several times as great in many areas.1

Similarly the Reagan administration has endorsed the continuation of progress in cleaning up the nation's air. The first of the "eleven principles" that guide the administration's approach toward legislation is that "the Nation should continue its steady progress toward cleaner air."2

What evidence does the NCAQ or the administration use to conclude that progress has been made? How accurate is this evidence? Can the hypothesis of no change in air quality be rejected?


Air Quality Trends

Two types of data can be used to measure the success of air pollution policies: air quality data and emission estimates. The former are measures of the average concentration of the important pollutants, drawn from monitoring sites maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency and the states. The latter are estimates of total emissions based

____________________
1
National Commission on Air Quality, To Breathe Clean Air ( Government Printing Office, 1981), p. I-1.
2
Statement, Anne M. Gorsuch, administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, August 5, 1981; emphasis added.

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