Attack on the Clean Air Act

Published Feb 6, 2011


The Clean Air Act is a law with a 40-year track record of cutting dangerous pollution to protect human health and the environment. Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this legislation has prevented more than 400,000 premature deaths and hundreds of millions of cases of respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

Because climate change poses risks to our health, the EPA has a responsibility under the Clean Air Act to reduce global warming emissions. But the EPA's authority to set global warming standards is being attacked by many members of Congress—including some of those who blocked passage of a comprehensive climate and energy bill.  

Global warming emissions, the endangerment finding, and the Clean Air Act

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that global warming emissions are air pollutants and would be subject to EPA regulation under the Clean Air Act if a thorough scientific investigation showed that they endanger the public’s health and welfare.

In 2009, after an extensive scientific review, the EPA concluded that global warming emissions present a danger to public health (known as the “endangerment finding”). The EPA found that global warming pollution is connected with:

  • hotter, longer heat waves that threaten the health of the sick, poor, and elderly;
  • increases in ground-level ozone pollution, linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses; and
  • extreme weather events that can lead to deaths, injuries, and stress-related illnesses.

With this finding, the EPA became obligated to set standards to limit global warming emissions.

Attacks in Congress

Unfortunately, polluters and their allies in Congress are using every opportunity to prevent the EPA from protecting our health by reducing global warming emissions. Numerous members of Congress in both the Senate and the House of Representatives have announced their intention to introduce legislation that would block or delay the agency from reducing global warming emissions under the Clean Air Act. Some members of Congress even tried to attach bills attacking the EPA to legislation that must pass, such as federal spending and budget bills.

UCS RespondsThese attacks on the Clean Air Act pose a grave threat to EPA's responsibility to protect our health and environment from the impacts of climate change. Some proposed legislation would delay the EPA from setting standards to limit global warming emissions for several years, while other bills would indefinitely block the EPA from taking any action to reduce global warming emissions whatsoever. Some proposals would prohibit the EPA from doing any research or analysis on climate science in its efforts to implement the endangerment finding.

UCS is working hard to fight back against these attacks. In February 2011, we delivered a Scientists’ Statement on the Clean Air Act, endorsed by 2,505 scientists opposing attacks on the Clean Air Act and supporting the EPA's authority to act on its science-based finding.

The statement emphasizes the scientific evidence behind the regulation of global warming, and urges Congress to support the EPA’s authority to act on its science-based finding.

UCS is also helping to highlight the very real and specific threats connecting climate change and health, as well as the costs from such threats.

Instead of standing in the way of progress, Congress should stop pandering to the deep pockets of the fossil fuel industry and allow the EPA to protect the public’s health from global warming, while also enacting the comprehensive climate and energy legislation the country needs to build a clean energy economy, create jobs, protect the environment, and ensure a healthy future for our families.

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