Monday, September 13, 2010

Coming tomorrow: Clean Air Act 40th anniversary celebration

Congress returns to D.C. this week amid the usual hail of partisan bullets. It is perhaps useful to have the occasional reminder that progress can be made (or, at least, has been made in the past) on a bipartisan basis.

And so, tomorrow the U.S. EPA celebrates the 40th anniversary of the landmark 1970 Clean Air Act, probably the nation’s most successful environmental law. And it is fitting that the celebration – expected to feature not only EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, but former Republican heads of the agency and former Senator Howard Baker – will be co-hosted by our friends at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Amid the swirling confetti, I hope everyone does realize the Clean Air Act has been a stunning success story: a government program that really works. It has brought cleaner air, longer lives, better health, technological innovation and jobs. You would never have seen a catalytic converter or a scrubber without this landmark law.

And though there have been compromises from its outset (law makers back in 1970 didn’t foresee that coal-burning electric power plants built in the 1950s would still be smoking away in the 21st century), there is no doubt that America is better off for having the law.

As you know, the EPA is under attack from some in Congress who want to block it not only from setting tougher new science-based national standards for smog, but who want to interfere with agency efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

History shows these law makers should stand down, because the Clean Air Act has a proven track record of being implemented in a common-sense, cost-effective way.

EPA has performed a series of reports to Congress documenting how the benefits have far outpaced the costs:

And although many millions still live in areas with unhealthful air – evidence that the job isn’t done -- EPA’s most recent “trends” report documents the continuing progress in recent years:

Since 1990, nationwide air quality has improved significantly for the six common air pollutants.

These six pollutants are ground-level ozone, particle pollution (PM2.5 and PM10), lead, nitrogen dioxide

(NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Nationally, air pollution was lower in 2008

than in 1990 for:

– 8-hour ozone, by 14 percent

– annual PM2.5 (since 2000), by 19 percent

– PM10 , by 31 percent

– Lead, by 78 percent

– NO2 , by 35 percent

– 8-hour CO, by 68 percent

– annual SO2 , by 59 percent

EPA expects air quality to continue to improve as recent regulations are fully implemented and states work to meet current and recently revised national air quality standards. Key regulations include the Locomotive Engines and Marine Compression-Ignition Engines Rule, the Tier II Vehicle and Gasoline Sulfur Rule, the Heavy-Duty Highway Diesel Rule, the Clean Air Non-Road Diesel Rule,and the Mobile Source Air Toxics Rule.

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