Implemented to address the public health and welfare risks imposed by certain widespread air pollutants, the Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1970 is the most comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources.
Overview of the Clean Air Act
The act, which underwent major revisions in 1990 and 2003, set standards for air quality that limit the amount of various pollutants to specified levels. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is ultimately responsible for establishing standards and enforcing the CAA, although much of the actual application takes place at the state and local levels.
The original CAA in 1970 was fairly straightforward. It placed the EPA in charge of monitoring and improving the nation’s air quality. The CAA established research programs, set clean air standards, enforced regulations, and provided technical and financial assistance to state and local government efforts toward reducing air pollution.
In 1990, the CAA underwent new changes and amendments, which brought widespread reform to the government’s methods of dealing with all kinds of pollution, like acid rain and new limits on ozone. The CAA of 1990 also placed new regulations on vehicle emissions and required polluting factories to install the best available pollution control equipment.
The Inflation Reduction Act, signed by Joe Biden in 2022, further amends the CAA to allow the EPA to administer $27 billion in grants to green banks nationwide, through a funding mechanism to be called the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. It designates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as substances to be regulated by the EPA.
Benefits of Adhering to Clean Air Standards
For over fifty years, the CAA has been limiting air pollutants from cars and trucks, power plants, and industrial smokestacks. Supporters of the CAA say that the annual benefits from cleaner air include up to 370,000 avoided premature deaths, 189,000 fewer hospital admissions for cardiac and respiratory illnesses, and net income benefits of up to $3.8 trillion for the U.S. economy. It is said that the annual benefits of the CAA are up to 32 times greater than the cost of these regulations
Regulations Imposed by the Clean Air Act
The CAA affects American businesses in various ways. Polluting companies may be forced to control air pollution through end-of-pipe methods. In other words, the pipes need to have a filter system that captures pollution already created and removes it before it gets into the open air. Toxic air pollutants include mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), benzene, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It also implements the Montreal Protocol to phase out most ozone-depleting chemicals.
Potential Penalties for Non-Compliance
There are potentially harsh penalties for those who violate the CAA. If one knowingly fails or causes another person or employee to fail to comply with any of the work practice standards, they could be looking at 5 years of imprisonment or substantial fines. The penalties are doubled if there is a second or subsequent conviction. Making false statements or tampering with a monitor device could land you two years in prison or substantial fines, with penalties doubled for subsequent convictions.
Steps to Take to Ensure Compliance with the Clean Air Act
Unfortunately, the Clean Air Act can get very technical and many companies use engineers and consultants to determine whether they are in compliance. However, there are generally four steps to CAA compliance.
Determine if the project rises to the Environmental Assessment level.
Determine if the project is located in a non-attainment area for any of the six pollutants (carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur oxides, nitrous oxides, ground-level ozone, particulate matter).
Determine if the project exceeds allowable emissions levels.
Determine what mitigation options are available.
I’m Here to Help!
I’m Rob Robinson and I know that dealing with CAA regulations can be confusing and mired in bureaucratic red tape. While the CAA has brought about many beneficial changes for our environment, it can be complex and daunting to understand. I offer my clients clear advice and practical suggestions which can ultimately achieve cost-effective compliance and avoid potentially substantial penalties, production, or project delays, along with escalating tensions in agency relations.
I can deliver strategic advice before approaching the Florida agencies or when help is needed for a permit application, renewal, or revision. I can provide valuable assistance when key legal interpretations are disputed, when enforcement is looming when parties are stalemated, and when agency appeals are necessary. I can also represent you when court is unavoidable. Of course, most matters can be worked out with the corresponding agencies in formal or informal proceedings.
If you have any questions regarding the Clean Air Act, please don’t hesitate to contact me.