Policy Analysis: the Clean Air Act


The Clean Air Act is a significant piece of environmental legislation in the United States. First enacted in 1963, the policy seeks to regulate emissions to promote public health and environmental objectives of the country. Throughout the years, the Clean Air Act proved to be useful in improving air quality and contributing to public health. The Clean Air Act establishes goals and standards of air quality and enables the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as state governments, to ensure compliance of the industry with the set emissions levels. It also sets forward regulations for motor vehicle emissions that are due to be enforced by the EPA.

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The target level of policy is the federal policy for public health, as the primary goal of the Act was to improve the quality of air throughout the country, consecutively enhancing population health. The present policy analysis will seek to provide both current and historical information about the Clean Air Act and to discuss its effectiveness, strengths, and weaknesses. Environmental concerns are not evident all over the globe, which is why most developed countries also have air quality regulations and laws in place. Thus, to deepen the policy analysis, the Clean Air Act will be compared to alternative environmental policies issued by other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Australia. The ultimate purpose of the comparison will be to identify the position of the U.S. Clean Air Act concerning other countries’ environmental protection laws and to highlight recommendations for improving the Clean Air Act or its implementation in the United States.


Air Pollution and Health

The link between air pollution and population health is acknowledged by the majority of governments and health organizations. For instance, the World Health Organization (2016) recognizes two main types of air pollution: ambient air pollution and household air pollution. As of 2012, air pollution was linked to 6.5 million deaths globally (WHO, 2016). Air pollution is connected to a variety of severe health consequences, including stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, and acute lower respiratory infections in children and adults (WHO, 2016). The effect of air pollution on health is explained by the fact that people inhale dangerous particles and substances when breathing polluted air, which causes damage to their respiratory system and other internal organs. Thus, air pollution poses a threat to the national health goals of most developed countries. Reducing both ambient air and household pollution, on the other hand, can improve population health and reduce illness and mortality associated with air pollution.

Anti-Pollution Laws and Policies

One of the key methods of regulating environmental pollution is to establish national or state regulations that would provide standards for water, air, and soil quality, as well as methods for enforcing compliance in businesses and local homeowners. One important provision of anti-pollution laws and policies in place all over the globe is that they recognize and seek to prevent the effect of contamination on population health. Thus, anti-pollution laws and policies should be viewed as public health initiatives and evaluated accordingly (McCarthy & Burke, 2017).

The Clean Air Act

The United States’ Clean Air Act was first passed in 1963 and amended in 1970, 1977, and 1990 to improve its scope and influence on air pollution control. At first, the Clean Air Act only included provisions to begin large-scale research on air pollution and develop a national policy for improving air quality; however, further amendments made the act more practical. For instance, the 1970 amendment established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which became responsible for enforcing the Act’s regulations and provisions, as well as for researching air pollution (Bell, 2017). Also, the Clean Air Act of 1970 established National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which are used to control air pollution levels to this day. The 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1970, however, imposed stricter standards for air quality and improved control of hazardous substances in the industry. At the moment, the Clean Air Act represents the United States’ most comprehensive air pollution policy.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The main advantage of the Clean Air Act is that it offers a comprehensive framework to target air pollution on the national level. Besides, it proved to be useful in improving population health. According to EPA (2011), the Clean Air Act prevented over 160,000 cases of adult mortality due to particulate matter inhalation, over 54,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, and over 1.5 million of asthma exacerbations cases. By 2020, the positive results of the Clean Air Act will be even more prominent, with 230,000 mortalities prevented and 180,000 cases of acute bronchitis avoided due to cleaner air (EPA, 2011). Also, the Clean Air Act has a positive effect on the U.S. economy. First of all, it relieves some of the burdens on the healthcare sector by preventing acute and chronic diseases, as well as their exacerbations. Besides, it contributes to the reduction of hospital admissions and emergency room visits, which can also help to cut healthcare costs. Secondly, the Clean Air Act helps in fostering a healthy workforce by minimizing restricted activity days and lost workdays, which is beneficial for the economy (EPA, 2011).

However, there are still some weaknesses evident in the present version of the Act. Firstly, it was passed 25 years ago, which means that pollution levels and air quality threats could have evolved. Secondly, the Act is subject to widespread criticism due to the weakness of the EPA in enforcing air quality standards and regulations. As noted by McCarthy and Burke (2017), the EPA uses a rather weak approach when it comes to CAA enforcement, which affects the implementation of the Act.

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The Stakeholders

As previously established, air pollution is highly linked to population health, which is why the general public is the main group of stakeholders involved in the policy issue. However, as the Clean Air Act also puts significant pressure on various industries, including coal-mining, production, and manufacturing sectors, companies and business owners are also among the key stakeholders of the Act. State governments and federal agencies can also be considered major stakeholders in the Clean Air Act, as they are responsible for its implementation and progress in achieving its main goals.


To analyze the effectiveness of the Clean Air Act, it is important to study other clean air policies used by developed countries. This section will serve to introduce policies for comparison, establish criteria for selecting the best policy, and compare the three policies in terms of their impact and coverage.

Alternative Policies

The United Kingdom

Three Clean Air Acts were established in the United Kingdom. First, the British Parliament passed the Clean Air Act of 1956 in response to the smog in London. In 1968, another Clean Air Act was passed to consolidate the provisions of the 1956 legislation and add amendments to improve its coverage. Finally, the Clean Air Act 1993 is the most recent piece of anti-air pollution legislation in Britain. In 1997, the National Air Quality Strategy became a significant part of the country’s Environmental Act (1995). The British anti-pollution initiatives were greatly influenced by European environmental regulations, creating a somewhat diverse range of policies and standards for governments to enforce (Longhurst, Barnes, Chatterton, Hayes, & Williams, 2016). Under the Clean Air Act 1993, local authorities are responsible for designating emission-free areas and enforcing the provisions of environmental laws.


The central piece of legislation regarding air pollution in Australia is the National Clean Air Agreement, enacted in December 2015. The principal focus of the agreements is on product emissions and reducing pollution from coal burning, as well as on promoting ambient air quality reporting (Australian Government, 2015). As the policy is rather new, there is no evidence of its results. However, it was met with some criticism by the local public and the environmentalists. For instance, Rivers and Smolski (2015) argue that the Agreement lacks long-term goals and does not focus on the continuous reduction of air pollution and fails to prioritize population health as the fundamental consideration of the policy.

Criteria for Selection

The policies used in the three countries included in the analysis are rather diverse and complex and thus require distinctive selection criteria. To choose the best policy, it is important to address its effects on population health as well as the implementation process. Ideally, an effective clean air policy would:

  1. Establish distinctive standards for air quality;
  2. Provide a framework for ensuring compliance on the federal, state, and local levels;
  3. Prioritize population health as the main desired outcome of the legislation;
  4. Enable continuous development of the policy based on current research.


A comparison of alternatives can be seen in Appendix 1. The Clean Air Act of 1970 sets distinctive standards for air pollution levels and provides EPA with the authority to regulate compliance on all policy levels. Also, the Clean Air Act of 1970 mentions population health as the key goal of the legislation, while regular amendments and revisions ensure that the policy is in continuous development

Similarly, the U.K. legislation relies on air quality standards set by the European Union. However, this policy is a lot more complex than the other two alternatives and does not offer a framework for evaluating and resolving issues. Instead, it enables local authorities to regulate compliance with environmental legislation, which may not be useful when it comes to large-scale misconduct. Also, the U.K. alternative does not set population health targets related to the act, which means that it focuses on compliance with the EU regulations rather than on improving population health on a national level. Finally, there were no recent developments regarding the clean air legislation in the U.K., which raises questions about its relevance.

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The Australian National Clean Air Agreement seems to fill most of the gaps left unaddressed by the U.K. legislation. For instance, it provides a framework for cooperation between key stakeholders and sets forward a list of product emissions standards, as well as air quality standards to be achieved. The main weakness of the Agreement is that it focuses more on maintaining the industry than on improving population health, which is why some of the standards do not comply with the recommendations of the WHO (Rivers & Smolski, 2015).

Evaluating the impact of each alternative on patient outcomes was not part of the comparison, as the policies are in different stages of implementation. Research on the Clean Air Act of 1970 suggests that the policy has major benefits for public health. Similar effects in mortality reduction and the prevention of respiratory infections were found in Britain (Longhurst et al., 2016). However, no research on the possible impact of the National Clean Air Agreement was conducted yet.

One trade-off between the alternatives that was evident in the analysis is the enforcement of regulations. In the Clean Air Act of 1970, the EPA is defined as the primary player in ensuring compliance and sufficient regulation. However, in the United Kingdom, the authority for enforcing regulations lies with the local government. While this could help the government to be proactive in responding to compliance issues and pollution threats, it is not useful in the cases of large-scale policy violations where the hand of the federal government is required. It seems that the Australian government sought to balance the situation by ensuring the involvement of all stakeholders; however, this strategy can be difficult to implement and will require continuous monitoring to ensure the desired level of commitment.


The analysis showed that the U.S. Clean Air Act is the most efficient and comprehensive alternative. It proved to be effective in reducing undesired health consequences and helped to cut down the costs of healthcare while also supporting the economy. The Australian National Clean Air Agreement seems to be promising, although the first results are yet to be determined. The British anti-air pollution legislation, however, is too complicated to enable successful implementation, which is why it did not conform to the criteria.

Although the Clean Air Act of 1970 was found to be the best alternative for targeting air pollution, there are two barriers evident in the Act. First, the EPA fails to address misconduct and enforce regulations effectively. To overcome this barrier, it is critical to improve the national presence of the EPA and enhance its capacity to ensure compliance. Second, the standards and provisions supplied by the Act are outdated. To address this weakness, it is crucial to review the Act and tailor the requirements so that they are relevant to the current environmental landscape.

Besides, the government needs to take steps for evaluating implementation continuously. This can be done using both reporting and research to ensure that target pollution reduction levels and patient health outcomes are met. The evaluation could also prove to be useful in promoting the authority of EPA in implementing the Act. For example, EPA officers could offer valuable insight into improving the effectiveness of their work and promoting compliance across the industry.


Summary of Analysis

Overall, the main goal of the analysis was to evaluate the effectiveness of the Clean Air Act as a federal public health policy. The detailed analysis of the Clean Air Act showed that it is an efficient piece of legislation that has a positive impact on public health and the economy of the United States. For example, the Act is said to reduce adult mortality and the rate of respiratory diseases, such as bronchitis, asthma, and infections of respiratory organs (EPA, 2011). Although the Act has some minor weaknesses, including the effectiveness of the EPA and its relevance to the current public health climate, it can still be considered a successful federal public health initiative.

To deepen the analysis, the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1970 was compared to major anti-air pollution regulation in the U.K. and Australia. Both countries had sufficient clean air policies in place. However, the U.K. legislation was rather difficult to implement and failed to meet all the criteria of the analysis, whereas the National Clean Air Agreement remains questionable in terms of its effect on public health.

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The main limitation of the analysis was that it was rather brief and not enough data was gathered for a thorough evaluation. For example, the analysis only studied two alternative policies and did not include any legislation from other countries. Also, the policy analysis only focused on air pollution legislation instead of targeting environmental legislation as a whole. Other types of pollution, such as water and soil contamination, also play a critical role in public health, which is why it would be useful to analyze them, too.

Despite these two limitations, the analysis was designed in a way to provide a fair and thorough evaluation of the policy in question. The criteria for analysis helped to focus on the individual characteristics of each legislation instead of addressing minor differences between them.


The analysis served to identify the critical strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. Clean Air Act and to compare it to similar legislation from other parts of the world. The results of the analysis indicated certain fallacies of the Clean Air Act and suggested ways of addressing them to improve coverage and efficiency. Thus, the study can be used by policymakers to develop the existing policy. Besides, the analysis highlighted the scarcity of research on other clean air initiatives. Ensuring that a solid body of research is available on each alternative can help to evaluate strategies for improving population health and achieve better results nationally.


All in all, the Clean Air Act of 1970 is an efficient piece of legislation that can help the United States to advance its environmental goals and improve public health. Compared to similar policies in other countries, the Clean Air Act is more structured and concrete, offering a distinctive framework for supporting better air quality. Research also suggests that the Clean Air Act already proved to be effective in addressing population health issues, including respiratory diseases and mortality rates. Although minor barriers to the implementation of the Clean Air Act still exist, they can be solved by enhancing the EPA and ensuring the continuity of the Act’s development. The analysis also indicated some gaps in research targeting other countries’ environmental policies. Future research should concentrate on studying the effectiveness of clean air regulations in other parts of the world, as well as uncovering solutions for improving the U.S. approach to clean air regulations.


Bell, S. E. (2017). Environmental injustice and the pursuit of a post-carbon world: The unintended consequences of the Clean Air Act as a cautionary tale for solar energy development. Brooklyn Law Review, 82(2), 529-557.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2011). The benefits and costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020. Web.

Longhurst, J., Barnes, J., Chatterton, T., Hayes, E. T., & Williams, B. (2016). Progress with air quality management in the 60 years since the UK Clean Air Act, 1956: Lessons, failures, challenges and opportunities. International Journal of Sustainable Development & Planning, 11(4), 491-499.

McCarthy, G., & Burke, T. A. (2017). We need a strong Environmental Protection Agency: It’s about public health! The American Journal of Public Health, 107(5), 649-651.

Rivers, N., & Smolski, K. (2015). Submission in response to the National Clean Air Agreement Discussion Paper prepared by Environmental Justice Australia and Nature Conservation Council of NSW. Web.

World Health Organization (WHO). (2016). Burden of disease from the joint effects of household and ambient air pollution for 2012. Web.

Appendix 1

Comparison Table

Criterion U.S. Clean Air Act 1970 U.K. Clean Air Act 1993 National Clean Air Agreement 2015
Establishes distinctive standards for air quality Yes Yes Yes
Provides a framework for ensuring compliance on the federal, state, and local levels Yes No Yes
Prioritizes population health as the main desired outcome of the legislation Yes No No
Enables continuous development of the policy based on current research No No N/a
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