On 50th Anniversary of Unanimous Clean Air Vote, A Call for Bipartisan Climate Action

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Anya Fetcher

U.S. Senator Angus King joins clean air, public health, and climate experts in Maine

Environment Maine

Augusta, ME — On the 50th anniversary of a unanimous 1970 U.S. Senate vote to pass the Clean Air Act, Maine Independent Senator Angus King today joined clean air, public health, and climate experts to call for that same spirit of bipartisan support to address the risks of climate change.

“I realize very humbly that I stand on the shoulders of giants. We are going to try and continue the momentum that Muskie and Mitchell created on clean air issues and continue the leadership from Maine on climate action,” said U.S. Senator Angus King.

Maine’s former U.S. Senators Edmund Muskie and George Mitchell rallied remarkable bipartisan support for the Clean Air Act and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, respectively, that resulted in long-lasting benefits to Maine and the nation. The Clean Air Act passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate (73-0) on September 22, 1970, and nearly unanimously (374-1) in the U.S. House. Senator Mitchell guided the committee process on the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990, which passed the Senate in an 89-10 vote and the House by 401-25.

“The Clean Air Act has demonstrated time and again that science-informed policy is not a net cost to the American people but pays back many times the cost of pollution control. This has been evident with ozone and acid rain, and it is just as clear with climate change,” said Ivan Fernandez, Distinguished Maine Professor, Climate Change Institute & School of Forest Resources, University of Maine. “The longer we wait, the more it will cost, and as the billion-dollar climate disasters mount up, it is costing us more than we can afford.” 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act has successfully reduced air pollution, improved public health, and created cleaner technologies, all while the economy has grown substantially.

  • Air pollution from 1970 to 2017 for six common pollutants dropped 75%, while the U.S. economy over this period as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 324%.

  • Estimated benefits from the law’s success are pegged at $2 trillion in 2020, exceeding costs by a factor of more than 30:1.

  • The Clean Air Act Amendments passed in 1990 will prevent an estimated 230,000 premature deaths in 2020 alone, and the law established an Acid Rain Program that drastically reduced acid deposition harming lakes and the environment.

A report commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the Clean Air Act delivered the following benefits to Mainers:

“The Clean Air Act is recognized as landmark legislation for what it has done to improve our air quality, and for its lasting reminder that protecting public health is a nonpartisan issue,” said Rebecca Boulos, Executive Director of the Maine Public Health Association. “Everyone wants, and has the right, to breathe clean air. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, it’s time to reflect and consider how we can address other public health challenges facing us in a nonpartisan manner, so that we, as a state and as a country, can once again accomplish something so great with such a positive, lasting impact on the health of people in America.”

In 2019, a sweeping set of landmark climate action and clean energy laws were passed with bipartisan support in Augusta, setting new emissions reduction targets and expanding investment in clean energy, especially solar power, to create new jobs and more affordable, reliable electricity for Maine people.

The Maine Climate Council currently is developing a new Climate Action Plan, due in December 2020, aimed at achieving at least an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. A September 2020 report conducted for the Maine Climate Council concluded that the cost of inaction on climate is very high. Maine’s economic output could decrease 15% by 2050 without sustained action to address climate change.

“The Clean Air Act is the nation’s most successful environmental law, proving that protecting the environment and enhancing public health go hand and hand with economic growth,” said Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director at the Clean Air Task Force. “As the nation faces a global pandemic and is experiencing the impacts of climate change head on, we should strengthen environmental laws, not pursue rollbacks of common-sense safeguards.”