40 Years Later – Still A Breath of Fresh Air

Clean Air Act continues to be a bulwark of environmental law

This page was published 13 years ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

Take a deep breath and say "Happy Birthday" to one of our nation’s most successful environmental laws. The Clean Air Act turns 40 this year, and we should all be thankful for what this monumental law has accomplished.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the first 20 years alone of the Clean Air Act helped prevent:
• 205,000 premature deaths
• 672,000 cases of chronic bronchitis
• 21,000 cases of heart disease
• 843,000 asthma attacks
• 10 million lost I.Q. points in children, mostly by reducing lead in gasoline
• 18 million child respiratory illnesses

In 1990, a bipartisan Congress strengthened the Clean Air Act, adding requirements for the EPA to reduce a suite of toxic air pollutants like mercury, lead, benzene, arsenic, hydrochloric acid, dioxins, and PCBs, just to name a few.

The EPA reports that from 1990 to 2008, emissions from six common pollutants dropped by 41 percent even as our nation’s GDP grew by 64 percent. Cutting pollution truly pays, not just for the health of millions of Americans but for industries required to find new, innovative, and cleaner ways to do business.

Earthjustice has been at the front of the clean air fight, using the Clean Air Act in court to guarantee the strongest protections under the law. Just a few examples include:
• In 2006, we won a federal court challenge to a Bush administration maneuver that would have sabotaged the New Source Review program, which requires power plants, refineries, and other major polluters to install modern pollution controls when making multi-million dollar renovations.
• In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the EPA’s refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Earthjustice played a pivotal role in advising attorneys on this important landmark case.
• After a decade of hard fought litigation brought by Earthjustice on behalf of local community groups, this August the EPA finalized a rule that will curb mercury and other pollution from cement kilns by up to 90 percent, resulting in up to 2,500 premature deaths avoided annually.

But the Clean Air Act is only just getting started. In 2011, the EPA is required to set new pollution limits on some of the biggest polluters in the country, including the nation’s biggest global warming polluters. These safeguards will protect millions of Americans and save thousands of lives, but will not come without a fight.

The EPA plans to cut carbon and mercury pollution from power plants, limit fine particle pollution (soot) and curb toxic air pollution from industrial boilers and incinerators. But big polluters will spend millions of dollars on high paid lobbyists to infiltrate EPA, the White House and Congress with misinformation and dire predictions about cleaning up their pollution.
We’ll keep you informed about ways to get involved and tell the EPA and our elected officials that we all want and deserve clean air.

In the meantime, let’s make sure to celebrate the Clean Air Act’s 40th anniversary and hope for continued success in cleaning up our air and protecting our environment for future generations.

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.