Would we have a lot more carbon in the atmosphere if we did not have the clean air act?



  1. 0 Votes

    Yes. The Clean Air Act, first passed in 1970 and renewed in 1990, has been remarkably effective at the activities it has been aimed at regulating, namely air pollution from traditional particulate sources (although not CO2 directly). According to the EPA, levels of carbon monoxide, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide have all declined since 1980. Air quality has improved markedly in regions that used to be choked with pollution, particularly from coal plants. Sulfur dioxide, or acid rain, is a particular success story. In the 1960s and 70s, acid rain–corrosive pollutants put into the atmosphere mainly by coal plants, which fell to earth as rain–was a huge problem in the U.S. Northeast and Canada. That problem has been drastically reduced due to the Clean Air Act’s regulation of coal emissions. All of these pollutants contributed to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, in the sense that, we’d have a lot more air pollution to clean up, in addition to the effects of global warming, if not for the Act.

    Where the Clean Air Act has yet to realize its potential is regulation of carbon dioxide directly–the biggest (but by no means the only) component of greenhouse gases that are causing global warming. Only in 2010 did the EPA, which administers the Clean Air Act, get the authority to regulate CO2 as a pollutant, the same as it has been doing for carbon monoxide and other gases. This is politically controversial, with the Obama administration coming under fire from the business sector that fears Clean Air Act compliance will increase costs and reduce the bottom line. Whether the Clean Air Act can be a useful tool to regulate CO2 remains to be seen, but in terms of its past performance with regard to air quality, there is reason to be optimistic.

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