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Clean Air Act and the Economy

There is a requirement in the Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990 that the EPA periodically determines the effect of the law on public health, the economy, and the environment of the United States. The broad response is that the Clean Air Act has helped build the economy and create jobs while reducing pollution to protect the health of citizens and the environment.

Retrospective Study, 1970-1990

Following the requirements of the new law, a retrospective study entitled The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act, 1972 to 1990, was sent from the EPA to Congress on October 15, 1997.

A brief summary of the results of the study indicated that from 1970 to 1990:

  • 1. Direct costs for compliance with the Clean Air Act by businesses, consumers, and government agencies resulted in higher costs for goods and services because of the requirements to install, operate, and maintain necessary pollution abatement equipment.
  • 2. Sulfur dioxide emissions were 40% lower, nitrogen oxides emissions were 30% lower, VOC emissions were 45% lower, and carbon monoxide emissions were 50% lower.
  • 3. Levels of primary particulate matter which came from various stationary and mobile sources were 75% lower.
  • 4. Emissions of lead were reduced by about 99%.
  • 5. National average emission concentrations were reduced substantially and there was a sharp increase in good air quality.
  • 6. Although ground-level ozone varies considerably from area to area depending on the relative amount of VOCs and nitrogen oxides as well as the weather conditions, there was about a 15% reduction in ozone levels.
  • 7. There was a reduction in the amount of acid deposition depending on the area of the country.
  • 8. There was a reduction in the amount of hazardous air pollutants.
  • 9. There was a substantial improvement in the health of the population because of the reduction of air pollutants.
  • 10. There was an improvement in various portions of the environment.

Despite an estimated cost over the 20-year period of $523 billion measured in the value of the dollar in 1990, the total benefits from a monetary standpoint were over $2 trillion. The Clean Air Act, from a monetary, health, and environmental point of view, to that point, was extremely successful. (See endnote 38.)

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