Clearing the Air: The Real Story of the War on Air Pollution

By Indur Goklany | Go to book overview

6. The States and Air Pollution: A
Reassessment Based upon Empirical
Evidence

Among the arguments for the federal takeover of air pollution control was that states had been dragging their feet on air pollution control and that federal control was necessary to ensure that interstate competition for jobs would not result in a race to the bottom and to excessive air pollution. This chapter examines whether the empirical evidence developed in previous chapters supports those arguments for federalization.


Did States Fail to Act Prior to Federalization?

Conventional wisdom is that federalization of air pollution control was necessary because "states had failed to act," that they "could not be trusted to adopt adequate environmental controls" because of interstate competition for business, 1 and that "Congress imposed national regulations to control pollution only after its efforts to prod states to act had failed." 2 Although such perceptions may well have been widely held, they are not supported by the empirical data presented in the previous chapters. That is particularly true for those pollutants that were generally known at the time of federalization to be the sources of public health problems, and especially in those areas where policymakers and the general public regarded them to be the worst problems.

Consider that PM and SO2 were perceived to be the major air pollution problems in urban areas nationwide, responsible for outright deaths. The data indicate relatively rapid progress in urban air quality for those pollutants in the 1960s, or earlier (see Figures 1-2 and 1-7 for PM in various urban areas; Figure 3-1 for PM nationwide; Figure 1-6 for SO2 in New York; and Figure 3-2 for SO2 nation‐ wide). Similarly, photochemical oxidants, although not generally regarded as deadly, were generally believed to be problems first

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