Anna Aurilio,
Environment America
Nathan Willcox,
Environment America

In Celebrating Clean Air Act’s 40th Anniversary, Senators Urged to Protect Landmark Clean Air Law

For Immediate Release

Washington DC –This week, Environment America and Physicians for Social Responsibility are celebrating the Clean Air Act’s 40 years of success in protecting public health and cleaning up the environment.  However, despite this impressive track record, the groups warned of efforts in Congress to weaken the heralded law and block its ability to hold the biggest polluters accountable.

“We should be honoring the Clean Air Act’s 40 years of success in protecting public health and cleaning up the environment by building on the Act’s power, not taking it away,” said Anna Aurilio, Director of the Washington DC office for Environment America.  “Celebrating our nation’s most effective clean air law means not letting the biggest polluters off the hook.”

For decades, the Clean Air Act has cost-effectively cut pollution to save hundreds of thousands of lives and protect our lakes, forests, and other natural treasures from untold damage. The law has successfully phased lead out of gasoline, improved air quality in cities across the country, protected the ozone layer, and greatly reduced acid rain, among many other accomplishments. In fact, EPA studies show that the benefits of the Clean Air Act outweigh the costs by as much as a 42-to-1 margin.

“The Clean Air Act is the nation’s gold standard of public health success stories, having saved thousands of lives over its 40 year history,” said Kristen Welker-Hood, SCD MSN RN, Director, Environment and Health Programs at Physicians for Social Responsibility.  “In fact, Congress has repeatedly voted to strengthen the Clean Air Act to better protect our health.  This Congress should continue that trajectory.  To weaken the Clean Air Act would be an irresponsible and dangerous mistake."

A just-released report by the Clean Air Task Force, The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America’s Dirtiest Energy Source, found that use of the Clean Air Act and other laws has almost cut in half the number of deaths attributed to power plant pollution, from 24,000 in 2004 to 13,200 in 2010.  The report concludes by urging use of the Clean Air Act to further protect public health:

The progress to date—since 2004, the U.S. has cut SO2 and NOx pollution by almost half without affecting electricity prices or bills, natural gas prices, or the reliability of the power system—powerfully confirms that: (1) the Clean Air Act works, and (2) the technologies required to achieve deep reductions in these pollutants are widely available and very effective.

Air pollution from coal-fired power plants contributes to four of the five leading causes of death, according to a recent Physicians for Social Responsibility report, Coal's Assault on Human Health.  "We must continue to strengthen air pollution controls through the Clean Air Act to combat the growing burden of heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic lower respiratory diseases in the United States," said Dr. Welker-Hood. 

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act covers global warming pollutants.   The EPA’s endangerment finding late last year started the process of using this time-tested law to fight the most profound pollution problem of our time – global warming.  

Fueled by big coal and major oil companies, several measures have already been introduced in Congress that would block or delay EPA action on global warming pollution through the Clean Air Act.  

“We should recognize 40 years of Clean Air Act achievements with 40 more years of progress cleaning our air,” said Aurilio. “We urge Congress to reject all proposals that would pull the rug out from under the Act’s imperative to hold the biggest polluters accountable and protect public health.”