The air in the United States is much cleaner today than it has been in several decades. 1 Gone are the soot and smoke characteristic of urban areas a century ago. Gone are the killer episodes of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s that struck Donora, New York, and Pittsburgh. 2 And photochemical smog, which first raised its ugly head in Los Angeles over half a century ago, while not yet gone, is in retreat everywhere.
How did this remarkable turnaround come about? What were the forces driving the improvements in air quality during the 20th century? When did these improvements start? Were technology and economic growth the problems, or the solutions, for air pollution? How much credit is due to federal regulation? Would these improvements have occurred in the absence of federal regulation?
This book attempts to answer those, and related, questions.
Most people credit the federalization of air pollution control accomplished by the Clean Air Amendments of 1970 for the air quality improvements of the past few decades. 3 Conventional wisdom is that prior to that federalization, state and local governments had been dragging their feet because they were engaged in an inevitable "race to the bottom" in which the environment was sacrificed in the relentless competition for jobs and economic growth, with a consequent lowering of net societal welfare and economic efficiency. 4 The same conventional wisdom was used to justify federalization in the first place. 5 Another argument for federalization is that air pollution knows no boundaries, state or otherwise. 6
Despite the apparent success of the existing framework for controlling air pollution in the United States, some analysts have challenged the race-to-the-bottom rationale for federalization of environmental control. 7 That has provoked a swift counterattack from proponents of federalization. 8 Articles have appeared in law journals debating the virtues and failings of federalization and whether in its absence states would indeed race to the bottom, whether the current framework of air pollution regulation is justified by the fact that certain