The Clean Air Act is a United States federal law designed to control air pollution on a national level. It requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and enforce regulations to protect the public from airborne contaminants known to be hazardous to human health.
The 1955 Air Pollution Control Act was the first U.S federal legislation that pertained to air pollution; it also provided funds for federal government research of air pollution. The first federal legislation to actually pertain to “controlling” air pollution was the Clean Air Act of 1963. The 1963 act accomplished this by establishing a federal program within the U.S. Public Health Service and authorized research into techniques for monitoring and controlling air pollution. In 1967, the Air Quality Act enabled the federal government to increase its activities to investigate enforcing interstate air pollution transport, and, for the first time, to perform far-reaching ambient monitoring studies and stationary source inspections. The 1967 act also authorized expanded studies of air pollutant emission inventories, ambient monitoring techniques, and control techniques.
One of the major initiatives Congress added to the Clean Air Act in 1990 is an operating permit program for larger industrial and commercial sources that release pollutants into the air. Operating permits include information on which pollutants are being released, how much may be released, and what kinds of steps the source’s owner or operator is required to take to reduce the pollution. Permits must include plans to measure and report the air pollution emitted. States and tribes issue operating permits. If those governments do not do a satisfactory job of carrying out the Clean Air Act permitting requirements, EPA can take over issuing permits.
Operating permits are especially useful for businesses covered by more than one part of the Clean Air Act and additional state or local requirements, since information about all of a source’s air pollution is in one place. The permit program simplifies and clarifies businesses’ obligations for cleaning up air pollution and can reduce paperwork. For instance, an electric power plant may be covered by the acid rain, toxic air pollutant, and smog (ground-level ozone) sections of the Clean Air Act. The detailed information required by those separate sections is consolidated into one place in an operating permit.
Thousands of operating permits that have been issued across the United States are available to the public. Contact your state or regional air pollution control agency or EPA for information on access to those documents.
Businesses seeking permits have to pay permit fees, much like car owners paying for car registrations. These fees pay for the air pollution control activities related to operating permits.