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

By Indur Goklany | Go to book overview

7. The Federal Role in Air Pollution
Control and the Path to Reform

If the 1970 act, and subsequent amendments, were to be judged by adherence to mandated deadlines, they would have to be deemed failures. As noted, despite several extensions of the NAAQS deadlines, today—almost a quarter of a century after the original deadlines passed and after two major rewrites of the Clean Air Act— many areas still do not comply with the act's fundamental goals. 1 Although the repeated inability to deliver on the deadlines undercuts the rationale offered for the 1970 federalization (namely, federalization was necessary because progress by states was not sufficiently rapid), that should not be interpreted as lack of progress in improving the nation's air quality. In fact, as shown earlier, air quality in the United States is much better today than it has been for decades, in part due to federal regulations.

Among the most effective features of federalization are the NAAQS, which established an objective yardstick for people to gauge whether their air quality was "healthful." Just as the existence of the Toxics Release Inventory has helped reduce the amounts of those emissions (yet another refutation of the race-to-the-bottom rationale as well as confirmation that by and large the nation is on the downward slope of an environmental transition for air toxics), the very existence of NAAQS created pressures to improve air quality. In fact, since it would be a few years before other features of federalization would become effective, the mere existence of the NAAQS may have been the major federal contribution to the emissions reductions at existing stationary sources and associated improvements in air quality immediately following federalization (until the 1973 oil shock). The increases in energy prices led to substantial energy conservation efforts on one hand and, on the other, a greater reliance on coal, particularly in the utility sector. Those responses helped accelerate VOC and CO emissions reductions and would have helped increase SO2 and, possibly, TSP emissions. The existence

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