clean air act

US Climate Action: Calling individuals to put on the uniform and step up to the plate.

By adopting an ambitious mandatory energy saving target for 2030 the State of California is well on its way to addressing the pressing issue of Climate Change. Global climate change affects the American public with growing visibility and ferocity. As severe weather events wreak havoc on the East coast or wildfires consume hundreds of thousands of acres here in the West, concern about the effects of climate change grows. In addition, the American public bears a heavy financial burden as tax dollars fund increased firefighting efforts; provide disaster relief to flooded cities and towns; and subsidize the climate issues affecting the American bread basket. However, despite the growing cost to cope with the effects of climate change, national policy to address climate change is still a long way off.

Cap-and-Trade in the US
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first mandatory CO2 reduction cap-and-trade program in the US. Under RGGI Northeastern and Mid Atlantic states have capped the CO2 emissions in the power sector with the goal of reducing power sector CO2 emissions 10 percent from the 2002-2004 average by 2018.

California began its own cap-and-trade program as well, with several major industrial sectors joining power as capped entities. Many other states – and hopefully the federal government- are watching intently to see how the California program plays out, as California prides itself on its trailblazing adoption of many environmental policies.

Federal cap-and-trade programs are not new in the U.S., with many people being familiar with the 1990 Clean Air Act Acid Rain Program’s SO2  trading system. This cap-and-trade system is widely considered a major success,with an Office of Management and Budget study finding benefits exceeding costsby a 40:1 ratio

Policy on Climate Change
Americans, witnessing a relentless onslaught of wildfires, droughts and recent flooding are fearful of losing their freedoms and way of life. As severe weather is becoming the new normal across the U.S., the price of inaction is becoming ever clearer. The specific cost and benefits of the cap-and-trade programs are yet to be determined, and a public that traditionally looks so favorably on market-based solutions and “quick wins” remains unconvinced on the potential of a market-based cap and trade solution.

Climate change could fundamentally change how we as Americans interact with each other, the rest of the world, and our environment. As the U.S. struggles with national policy on climate change, we fall behind other countries on this important global issue. In his victory speech on election night, President Obama gave brief but equal mention to ending the dependence of the US on foreign oil and tackling climate change. Perhaps by addressing climate change in terms of energy security federal action stands a chance. Perhaps, under the emerging “new energy economy” America can reclaim its position of leadership in the world.

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Businesses lend support to Clean Air Act

Traditionally, the relationship between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and American business has been turbulent, marked more often by conflict than collaboration.

That may be changing.

The emergence of green energy into the mainstream and efforts by business to embrace sustainability appears to have led to a thawing in relations between the two camps. This is reflected by today's news that organizations representing more than 60,000 U.S. businesses are planning to pledge support for the Clean Air Act, which turns 40 this year.

The groups have expressed concern that the EPA's half-year delay of pending ozone, or smog, rules will be costly to U.S. companies. They have cited the delay of an ozone pollution rule "will result in sick workers and family members, resulting in lost workdays, lower productivity and other adverse bottom-line impacts for companies," according to a statement.

A press conference is planned Wednesday. Streaming audio will be available at 1 p.m. at

Mid-life crisis? Clean Air Act turns 40

Lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni in the off-Broadway debut of the musical "Hair" in October 1967 set the stage for one of the most powerful pieces of environmental legislation in U.S. history.

Welcome sulphur dioxide,
Hello carbon monoxide
The air, the air is everywhere
Breathe deep, while you sleep, breathe deep

Less than four years later, President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act and soon after that formed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement the landmark legislation.

On Sept. 14, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson will mark the 40th anniversary of the Clean Air Act's passage at a Washington, D.C. conference. She'll be joined by "leading contributors who have helped shape the act over the past 40 years." The list includes politicians, private sector types and activists.

The real test is the air itself. I live in California's Central San Joaquin Valley, a hotbed of agriculture known for its brown, smog-filled skies. Allergy doctors do well here, and bad-air days are as common as rain in the Pacific Northwest.

Foul air settles in the Valley, which has very little wind and zero rain in summer. Reportedly, noxious emissions from the Bay Area and possibly as far away as China make their way to settle in scenic Fresno and the foothills of the Sierra Mountains.

Thursday's Air Quality Index rating by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District showed a moderate 97 for Fresno County, and an "unhealthy for sensitive groups" 110 for Tulare County just to the south. Ratings below 50 are considered good.

Worldwide it's not much better. According to, our air has 390 parts per million of carbon dioxide and should have 350 ppm to be considered healthy. The organization has launched a campaign to reduce the amount through grassroots activities on Oct. 10.

Author and clean air activist Bill McKibben says even if we succeed on removing all the fossil fuel belching cars, factories and other contributors, we'll still see the globe warming for decades. He says our prospects are dour.

This comes despite positive moves in past years. argues that the amendments added to the Clean Air Act in 1990 gave the law the teeth it needed to go after polluters. "There is no better tool for cleaning up toxic air pollution," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew on the website.

Those amendments, by the way, were signed by President George H.W. Bush, who said at the time: "This bill means cleaner cars, cleaner power plants, cleaner factories and cleaner fuels; it means a cleaner America."

Eliminating the brown nasty air remains a huge challenge. While most of us prefer the smell of clean air (I recall the undeniable freshness after thunderstorms in Fairbanks, Alaska), we still want our cars, our houses at 76 degrees (or so) and the independence of urban and rural sprawl.

And everybody seems to have an opinion. A search for "clean air act importance" on Google turned up a post from the Nuclear Energy Institute that basically said: "Want to clean the air? Go nuclear." I paraphrase. However, the writer does have a point. Dealing with the political fallout and spent plutonium is another matter.

And some want status quo. There's the movement supporting Proposition 23 in California, which would roll back the state's Global Warming Solutions Act. Also known as AB 32, the act seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California to 1990 levels by 2020.

Needless to say, Prop. 23 wouldn't help clean the air. It's supported by Texas refiners Tesoro and Valero and just got a $1 million boost from Koch Industries, a company notorious for its anti-environmental stance. Rebecca Lefton called the trio the "toxic triplets" in a post on

The battle continues. Coal is in the sights of many environmental groups, and the industry is fighting back, trying to keep coal ash from being regulated as hazardous waste and keeping coal mines and coal-fired power plants operational. Of course, the argument there is that coal is domestic, in abundant supply and the industry offers massive employment in questionable times.

It's time for clean energy to step up. Many reports say the industry, such as it is, will generate millions of new jobs. Where are they?

Those interested in listening in on EPA's 40-year look-back event can see it webcast live at

Photo: Rocky Mountains.