The Clean Air Act: Pollution Regulation

Derek Hales

Written By: Derek Hales

Updated on:

The Clean Air Act was initially enacted in 1963, and it was subsequently amended several times. This set of environmental laws was passed in an effort to control the emission of air contaminants. Part of the 1970 Clean Air Act included a group of federal programs designed to establish goals for air quality.

Clean Air Act

Additional amendments have been passed since 1970 that further advanced the goal of managing air pollution. Overall, the Clean Air Act has had a significant positive impact on the environment since it was passed more than 50 years ago. Visibility has improved, acid rain risks have diminished, and regulatory steps have helped to protect the ozone layer.

What Are the Goals of the Clean Air Act?

The main goal of the Clean Air Act was to establish air quality standards and limit emissions of air pollutants to achieve a national ambient air quality level that protects public health. The Clean Air Act imposes limitations on both mobile and stationary sources of emissions.

Clean air

The Environmental Protection Agency works to achieve the goals of the CAA, and this law empowers the EPA to develop standards for pollutants. The main standard is to protect public health, and secondary standards serve to prevent environmental and property damage. The EPA does not have to consider costs when setting primary standards.

History of the Clean Air Act

The original Clean Air Act was passed on Dec. 17, 1963. The passage of this law was a significant event that marked expanded federal government efforts to stop environmental damage.

With its subsequent amendments, the CAA has become one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world. After the 1970 amendment, the EPA began setting quality standards in specific areas with heavy air pollution. The EPA has used the CAA to ban harmful chemicals and to address serious problems like acid rain.

What Does the Clean Air Act Regulate?

The EPA has set limits on the levels of specific air pollutants in the air, and it can also limit the emissions of air pollutants from both stationary and mobile sources. Stationary sources have to install pollution control equipment that meets EPA standards, and most of these stationary sources also have to get operating permits.

EPA Restrictions

The six most common air pollutants designated by the EPA are carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone, lead, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide. The EPA is also responsible for maintaining programs that protect Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer.

The Clean Air Act also empowers the EPA to regulate and control air pollution from mobile sources. Gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles must meet federal fuel standards, and vehicle manufacturers have to meet emissions limits.

Additional Amendments

After the initial passage of the Clean Air Act in 1963, amendments were added to strengthen the law. In 1967, interstate air pollution control agencies were created, and states were allowed to set their own ambient air quality and pollution control standards.

In 1970, Congress expanded the CAA to regulate industrial and mobile pollution sources through both federal and state regulations. The 1977 amendments covered air quality in non-attainment areas, which are areas that don’t meet other federal air quality standards.

In 1990, amendments increased the federal government’s authority and responsibility with new regulatory programs and new provisions pertaining to stratospheric ozone protection.

How to Reduce Air Pollution

Everyone contributes to air pollution, but it is possible to reduce your carbon footprint. Think carefully about your transportation choices and reduce the amount of gasoline used whenever possible.

EPA Controls

Instead of driving where you need to go, walk, ride a bike, or use public transportation. Select electric cars or cars with better gas mileage. You can also implement alternative power sources in your home, such as wind and solar energy.

About Derek Hales

Derek HalesDerek Hales is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of He has been featured in Fast Company, Reader's Digest, Business Insider,, She Knows, and other major publications. Derek has a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Kansas State University. Hales has been testing and reviewing products for the home since 2014.