40 Years: Celebrating the Clean Air Act and the EPA

An anniversary worth celebrating

When Californians went to the polls earlier this month, they upheld the nation’s strongest global warming law and, in doing so, delivered a rebuke to Washington, where the Senate has conspicuously failed to pass national limits on carbon.

There have been times when America could look to its national leaders, acting in bipartisan fashion, to create strong environmental protections. Take the Clean Air Act and EPA, both of which mark 40th anniversaries this year.

I thought about the Clean Air Act a lot this summer, while vacationing near Mt. Mansfield, in Vermont. I hiked there as a boy, an experience that helped awaken my passion for protecting the environment. Returning so many years later, I was struck by one unmistakable fact: I could see farther than before. The air is much cleaner today.

Science confirms this. In rural Vermont, fine sulfur particles are the primary cause of haze. Sulfur pollution there is down 50% since 1990. Visibility has improved dramatically.

That’s just one of the things for which we can thank the Clean Air Act. By removing tens of millions of tons of pollution from the air, this legislation has also prevented more than 160,000 premature deaths.

Back then, the Act’s opponents predicted it would bring economic doomsday. But the law is one of the best investments Americans have ever made. For every $1 spent complying with it, we have gained $30 in health care savings and increased productivity.

Still, we have a long way to go: Half of Americans continue to breathe unhealthy air, and global warming pollution is on the rise.

Is EPA up to today’s challenges? Under the current administration, the agency is tightening air pollution regulations, a change long overdue.  But our opponents are at it again. The Business Roundtable, an association of corporate CEOs, is trying to delay EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations, saying Congress should pass a climate law instead. But when Congress considered a climate bill, the Business Roundtable opposed it.  I find its position disingenuous.

As opponents intensify their legislative and legal challenges to EPA, we will stand with the agency and defend its right to protect the health of all Americans.

We also will celebrate the Clean Air Act — a law that proved economic growth and environmental protection can go together. Having voted to let their new climate law take effect, Californians are about to demonstrate this again.

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