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The Planet

The Planet
September 1998 Volume 5, Number 7


Three Stages of the Clean Air Act

legislative branch

Congress drafts and passes the Clean Air Act.

Eight years ago, Congress passed a huge reauthorization of the Clean Air Act of 1970, which requires the Environmental Protection Agency to recommend new standards for air pollution every five years.
Well aware that industry opposition would always be able to fund more lobbyists inside the Beltway, the Club worked to create demand for clean air outside it.
The Club's paid ads and radio talkshow appearances were key in pressuring lawmakers to pass the bill, as were the 250,000 postcards to Congress asking for cleaner air. On Nov. 15, 1990, President George Bush signed the bill. Congress could then take a step back and let the EPA implement the law.

executive branch

So the EPA has to issue new standards for clean air.

By 1995, the EPA should have announced new standards for smog and soot pollution. It hadn't, so the American Lung Association sued the EPA to force it to act by 1997.
In theory, though, when the EPA implements a law like the Clean Air Act, it researches and sets limits for certain types of air pollutants, then works with states to determine places where the air needs cleaning up. Then states set to work cleaning up their air - by being stricter about the permits they issue to manufacturers, for example. If companies pollute more than they are supposed to, the EPA can fine them.
The Club generated widespread support for the EPA's proposed new standards throughout the comment period in 1997; this let the EPA know that the American people wanted cleaner air and would support measures to get it. After the EPA approved the rules, special interests hassled Congress to block them. (In certain cases, Congress can overturn agency rules.)

judicial branch

If the EPA doesn't enforce the law we can sue the polluters . . . or the EPA itself.

When Colorado's Hayden power plant violated its Clean Air Act permit more than17,000 times over a five-year period, and the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment did nothing, the Sierra Club took legal action to force a cleanup. "Since the EPA and the state had taken no legal action, we used the Clean Air Act's citizen suit provisions to take Hayden's owners to court and win this remarkable victory," said lead volunteer Joan Hoffmann.
Terms of the 1996 settlement required that the plant install pollution-reduction controls by 1999. These actions should result in an 85-90 percent reduction in emissions annually. In addition, the plant was required to pay $2 million in penalties plus another $2 million toward land conservation in the area. "We used the legal system effectively to clean the air in the Yampa Valley and protect a wilderness area," said Alex Levinson, the Club's national legal coordinator.
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