Findings

Air pollution is an issue that affects everyone. Because of this, there are policies in place that serve to improve air quality in the United States and keep pollution at a minimum. The Environmental Protection Agency sets federal air pollution laws. States may make their pollution laws stricter if they wish, but not less strict than the laws set by the EPA (EPA, 2020).

What is regulated?

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set national standards for the following six common air pollutants: carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone, lead, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide (EPA, 2020).

The EPA only regulates the air quality outdoors, not indoors. However, the air inside our homes can also be polluted, from both outdoor and indoor pollutants, so there are high quality indoor air purifiers available on the market.

Indoor air is not the only thing that the EPA does not regulate. While mold is a pollutant, there are currently no EPA regulations for airborne mold contaminants (EPA, 2020). There are, however, several policies in place that enforce rules and regulations. According to the official United States Environmental Protection Agency website, some of the current air pollution policies are surrounding:

  • Criteria Air Pollutants: As mentioned above, the EPA was required to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) under the Clean Air Act (CAA). This included regulations for the six common pollutants– carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone, lead, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide.
  • New Source Performance Standards (NSPS): The CAA also requires the EPA to maintain a list of sources of air pollution. They are also to set specific performance standards for these sources.
  • Ozone Layer Protection: Under Title VI of the CAA, the EPA is responsible for programs that protect the ozone layer.
  • Toxic Air Pollutants: The EPA is required to regulate emissions of toxic air pollutants, such as mercury and benzene.
  • Clean Air Markets Division: The CAMD is home to two main programs: The Acid Rain Program and the Cross-State Air Pollution rule. These programs enact policies that address issues like acid rain and particle pollution.

Results to date:

The policies in place helped keep air pollution under control for a while. From the year 2000 until the year 2016, air pollution rates generally declined. However, the rates have started climbing again since 2016. According to the Washington Post, one of the reasons behind this spike could be the increase in wildfires that release smoke and particles into the atmosphere. However, removing the fires from the analysis would not eliminate the increase in pollution (Ingraham, 2019).

Another potential reason for the increase in pollution over the recent years is the more laxed EPA enforcement under President Trump’s administration. According to the Washington Post, “Last year, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler disbanded the expert academic panel that reviewed and advised the agency on its standards for small-particle air pollution. In its place, the administration has hired consultants with links to the fossil fuel, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries.” (Ingraham, 2019).

References:

Regulatory Information by Topic: Air. (2020, June 10). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/air-research/history-air-pollution

Ingraham, C. (2019, October 24). Air pollution is getting worse, and data show more people are dying. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/10/23/air-pollution-is-getting-worse-data-show-more-people-are-dying/

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