Refinery smokestacks


The Clean Air Act has protected the air we breathe for four decades. By curbing air pollution it has saved many thousands of human lives and improved public health, all while saving money and protecting the U.S. economy. 

The Clean Air Act’s comprehensive system of pollution control, with a proven track record of success, must be applied to the grave problem of carbon pollution and climate change — now. This law can work immediately by itself or in conjunction with new climate legislation. The Center is working hard to make sure the Clean Air Act is enforced, not gutted.


The Clean Air Act requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate air pollutants in order to protect public health and welfare. Back in 1999 the International Center for Technology Assessment petitioned to regulate greenhouse gas pollution from automobiles under the Clean Air Act — and the Bush administration's response was to deny that CO2 is an “air pollutant” within the Act's broad definition. After the Center joined a large coalition of groups, states and cities in challenging that response, in 2007 the Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency that CO2 is indeed an air pollutant, ordering the EPA to start regulating its emission.

The EPA has taken some initial steps toward curbing greenhouse pollution under the Act. It issued a formal finding that greenhouse pollution endangers public health and welfare and moved to limit emissions from passenger cars and trucks. It acknowledged that major new or modified “stationary” sources of greenhouse pollution, like power plants and factories, must get permits and control their emissions before construction. But the EPA also narrowed the scope of this requirement considerably under its so-called “tailoring rule,” which initially limits the permitting program to only a few hundred very large sources of greenhouse gases, letting a huge number of significant sources off the hook. In late 2010 the EPA finally announced it would set industry-wide limits for greenhouse gas pollution from refineries and power plants under the “new source performance standards” of the Clean Air Act.


The Center is devoted to defending the EPA’s rules protecting our climate under the Clean Air Act — all of which are, or likely will be, under legal attack by industry special-interest groups and backward-looking states. Thanks in part to our efforts, the court denied an industry attempt to halt implementation of some Clean Air Act rules, making way for regulation of the biggest industrial polluters' greenhouse gas emissions back in 2011. With the Act still under intense attack by Congress, the Center and more than 300 allies wrote to former president Obama to veto any legislation gutting the Act.

The Center believes that the federal government can and must do much more to address the serious threat of climate change. To that end, we’ve continued to press for additional, rapid regulation of emissions under the Act. In late 2009 the Center and took a historic step by petitioning the EPA to set a national pollution cap on greenhouse gases pursuant to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards program of the Clean Air Act. We also joined with allies in petitioning for regulation of greenhouse pollution from ships, airplanes and other “nonroad” mobile emission sources, and in 2010 our coalition filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s unreasonable delay in proposing these regulations. We’re wielding the Act against offshore oil drilling in the Arctic and particulate air pollution to help public health — as well as to protect the nation’s national parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas from unhealthy haze pollution.

Smokestacks photo by ddatch54/Flickr Commons