Commemorating 40 Years of One of Our Nation's Most Successful and Protective Laws

Air in the U.S. is much cleaner and safer, but there is still a long way for the Clean Air Act and the EPA to go


Liz Judge, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 237

Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) celebrates 40 years of one of the nation’s most successful laws and the cornerstone of clean air in the United States, the Clean Air Act.

The following is a statement by Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen:

"Since the Clean Air Act was passed by Congress and signed into law in 1970, it has become the single most powerful and critical tool for cleaning up our air in the United States and keeping toxic and deadly pollution out of our lungs.

"Over the last 40 years, the Clean Air Act has accomplished great things for our nation, thanks in large part to the vision of the lawmakers in Congress who drafted it. Because of the Clean Air Act, the air we breathe in the United States is much cleaner, safer, and healthier for our lungs than it was some 40 years ago.

"But as we have seen through several administrations, this legislation’s success lies in its enforcement and implementation. The law has not always been followed, and deadlines for stronger air standards have been missed and ignored. Many of our clean air safeguards have been the result of hard-fought battles between polluters and citizens over whether the EPA would protect the American people and our environment.

"For decades, these Clean Air Act victories have brought about improving air standards and stronger requirements for implementing these standards. As a result, many Americans have been allowed to lead longer and healthier lives. EPA analysis found that by 1990, Clean Air Act controls on air pollutants saved 205,000 American lives from premature death, and spared millions from illness. Meanwhile, our economy has grown and businesses have profited, proving that clean air pays.

"More recently, a series of court decisions, many in cases brought by Earthjustice, have put the EPA on track for adopting a host of new and improved air standards that, if the EPA and the Obama administration follow the law and the science, will greatly improve our air quality, keeping more toxic and harmful pollution out of our air and lungs, and beginning the long road to reducing carbon pollution that is driving climate change.

"In the next few years, the Environmental Protection Agency must be vigilant in following the Clean Air Act and using it to tackle some of the most harmful pollutants from the biggest polluters. Tens of thousands of lives and millions of tons of climate pollution are at stake in these rules.

"Among the upcoming standards that the EPA will take on are new rules on ground-level ozone pollution, or smog; fine particle pollution, including soot; and new standards for air pollution from power plants, refineries, oil and gas production facilities, and other industries.

"And yet there is much more that needs to be done under the Clean Air Act. The EPA must eliminate loopholes that allow dozens of industries to evade compliance with pollution limits and spew out dangerous levels of contaminants by claiming that their violations are due to "malfunctions," and the agency must also require all major industries to conduct ongoing monitoring of their emissions so the public and the government can know exactly how much pollution is being emitted into the air.

"Big polluters are already fighting these protections, and some members of Congress would like to serve these powerful special interests by standing in the way of the EPA.

"We thank the EPA and the Obama administration for making important strides to strengthen and follow the Clean Air Act. And we urge the EPA to press on in protecting all Americans and using the Clean Air Act to get dangerous pollutants out of our air."

Recent Earthjustice Victories for Clean Air in America:

  • Bringing the nation’s biggest polluters under long-delayed control: In 2006, a federal court rejected a Bush administration rule that would have sabotaged a key provision of the Clean Air Act, the New Source Review program, which requires power plants, refineries, and other major polluters to install up-to-date pollution controls when they opt for multimillion-dollar renovations or expansions. Earthjustice represented six groups in the case. The victory restored a key provision of the Clean Air Act by overturning the Bush administration loophole that would have allowed thousands of aging power plants and other industrial facilities to emit more air pollution, threatening the health of millions of Americans.
  • Protecting the public from dangerous global warming pollution: In the 2007 Supreme Court case, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, Earthjustice attorneys helped a coalition of state governments and conservation groups in overturning the EPA’s refusal to limit greenhouse emissions to fight global warming. It was the first Supreme Court case to ever address the issue of climate change, and this landmark decision paved the way for a number of EPA policies to reverse warming, including the historic clean cars rule of May 2009 limiting the greenhouse gas emissions and improving fuel economy of cars and light trucks.
  • Protecting the public from dangerous mercury pollution: After a decade of hard-fought Earthjustice litigation to get the EPA to comply with the Clean Air Act’s air toxics requirements, in August the EPA finalized new standards to reduce mercury pollution from cement kilns with new regulations. The EPA was under a settlement agreement to finalize the rule by August 6, 2010, after environmental groups, represented by Earthjustice, won a challenge in federal court to the agency’s previously weak emission standard. The new standard will result in significant pollution reductions of mercury, fine particle pollution, hydrochloric acid, and total hydrocarbons from the cement manufacturing industry. The EPA estimates that cutting air pollution from cement kilns could result in up to 2,500 premature deaths avoided each year. The EPA also estimates benefits from cutting this air pollution of up to $18 billion annually, starting in 2013 when the rule takes effect.
  • Protecting the public from air toxics: Working with a broad coalition of public health groups, environmental groups, and states, Earthjustice successfully stopped the Bush administration’s attempt to exempt coal-fired and oil-fired power plants from controlling their emissions of mercury and other air toxics. Since then, Earthjustice has partnered with many of the same groups to force the EPA to set the kind of protective standards for these plants that the Clean Air Act requires. Thanks to this work, the EPA is now under a court-ordered deadline to adopt emissions limits for power plants’ toxic air pollution by November 2011. For the first time, all power plants—even existing plants that have avoided cleanup requirements for decades—will have to significantly reduce their pollution. This victory turns the tide of two decades of delay and gets America back on track with the regulation of dangerous pollutants known to cause brain damage and birth defects.

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.