Air quality law
|Part of a series on
Law and the Environment
|Pollution control law|
|Natural resources law|
Air quality laws govern the emission of air pollutants into the atmosphere. A specialized subset of air quality laws regulate the quality of air inside buildings. Air quality laws are often designed specifically to protect human health by limiting or eliminating airborne pollutant concentrations. Other initiatives are designed to address broader ecological problems, such as limitations on chemicals that affect the ozone layer, and emissions trading programs to address acid rain or climate change. Regulatory efforts include identifying and categorizing air pollutants, setting limits on acceptable emissions levels, and dictating necessary or appropriate mitigation technologies.
Classification of air pollutants
Air quality regulation must identify the substances and energies which qualify as "pollution" for purposes of further control. While specific labels vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, there is broad consensus among many governments regarding what constitutes air pollution. For example, the United States Clean Air Act identifies ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides (NOx), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), and lead as "criteria" pollutants requiring nationwide regulation. EPA has also identified over 180 compounds it has classified as "hazardous" pollutants requiring strict control. Other compounds have been identified as air pollutants due to their adverse impact on the environment (e.g., CFCs as agents of ozone depletion), and on human health (e.g., asbestos in indoor air). A broader conception of air pollution may also incorporate noise, light, and radiation. The United States has recently seen controversy over whether carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases should be classified as air pollutants.
Air quality standards
Air quality standards are legal standards or requirements governing concentrations of air pollutants in breathed air, both outdoors and indoors. Such standards generally are expressed as levels of specific air pollutants that are deemed acceptable in ambient air, and are most often designed to reduce or eliminate the human health effects of air pollution, although secondary effects such as crop and building damage may also be considered. Determining appropriate air quality standards generally requires up-to-date scientific data on the health effects of the pollutant under review, with specific information on exposure times and sensitive populations. It also generally requires periodic or continuous monitoring of air quality.
As an example, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has developed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) NAAQS set attainment thresholds for sulfur dioxide, particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), carbon monoxide, ozone, NOx, and lead in outdoor air throughout the United States. Another set of standards, for indoor air in employment settings, is administered by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
A distinction may be made between mandatory and aspirational air quality standards. For example, U.S. state governments must work toward achieving NAAQS, but are not forced to meet them. On the other hand, employers may be required to immediately rectify any violation of OSHA workplace air quality standards.
AirLex is a website that provides a worldwide database of air quality policies and legislation. The air quality standards for each country are displayed by pollutant through a world map representation. The AirLex also provides the tools to establish comparisons between the legislation of different countries. This tool aims to provide updated information regarding worldwide air quality regulations. 
Emission standards are legal requirements governing air pollutants released into the atmosphere. Emission standards set quantitative limits on the permissible amount of specific air pollutants that may be released from specific sources over specific timeframes. They are generally designed to achieve air quality standards and to protect human health.
Numerous methods exist for determining appropriate emissions standards, and different regulatory approaches may be taken depending on the source, industry, and air pollutant under review. Specific limits may be set by reference to and within the confines of more general air quality standards. Specific sources may be regulated by means of performance standards, meaning numerical limits on the emission of a specific pollutant from that source category. Regulators may also mandate the adoption and use of specific control technologies, often with reference to feasibility, availability, and cost. Still other standards may be set using performance as a benchmark - for example, requiring all of a specific type of facility to meet the emissions limits achieved by the best performing facility of the group. All of these methods may be modified by incorporating emissions averaging, market mechanisms such as emissions trading, and other alternatives.
For example, all of these approaches are used in United States. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (responsible for air quality regulation at a national level under the U.S. Clean Air Act utilizes performance standards under the New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) program. Technology requirements are set under RACT (Reasonably Available Control Technology), BACT (Best Available Control Technology), and LAER (Lowest Achievable Emission Rate) standards. Flexibility programs are implemented in U.S. programs to eliminate acid rain, protect the ozone layer, achieve permitting standards, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Proponents of air quality law argue that they have caused or contributed to major reductions in air pollution, with concomitant human health and environmental benefits, even in the face of large-scale economic growth and increases in motor vehicle use. On the other hand, controversy may arise over the estimated cost of additional regulatory standards.
Arguments over cost, however, cut both ways. For example, the "estimates that the benefits of reducing fine particle and ground level ozone pollution under the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments will reach approximately $2 trillion in 2020 while saving 230,000 people from early death in that year alone." According to the same report, 2010 alone the reduction of ozone and particulate matter in the atmosphere prevented more than 160,000 cases of premature mortality, 130,000 heart attacks, 13 million lost work days and 1.7 million asthma attacks. Criticisms of EPA's methodologies in reaching these and similar numbers are publicly available.
Around the world
International law includes agreements related to trans-national air quality, including greenhouse gas emissions:
- Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), Geneva, 1979.
- Environmental Protection: Aircraft Engine Emissions Annex 16, vol. 2 to the 1944 Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation, Montreal, 1981.
- Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), New York, 1992, including the Kyoto Protocol, 1997.
- Georgia Basin-Puget Sound International Airshed Strategy, Vancouver, Statement of Intent, 2002.
- Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, Vienna, 1985, including the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Montreal 1987.
- Air Quality Agreement (bilateral U.S.-Canadian agreement on acid rain), 1986
There have been two acts proposed by the Canadian federal government with the name "Clean Air Act". The first, passed in 1970, sought to regulate the release of four specific air pollutants: asbestos, lead, mercury, and vinyl chloride. It was replaced by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act in the year 2000.
Former Canadian Environment Minister Rona Ambrose introduced the second Clean Air Act (Bill C-30) in mid-October 2006, containing mostly measures to fight smog pollution and greenhouse gases. On October 19, 2006, Ambrose revealed details of the plan which would include reducing the 2003 emissions of greenhouse gases by about 45 to 65% for the year 2050. There are plans for regulations on vehicle fuel consumption for 2011 and targets for ozone and smog levels for 2025. The effectiveness of this act has been challenged by the opposition parties, with Jack Layton of the New Democratic Party stating that the act does little to prevent climate change and that more must be done. After threatening to make this into an election issue the Conservative Party agreed to rework the act with the opposition parties. Bill C-30 did not proceed to second reading.
China, with severe air pollution in mega-cities and industrial centers, particularly in the north, has adapted the Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan which aims for a 25% reduction in air pollution by 2017 from 2012 levels. Funded by $277 billion from the central government, the action plan targets PM 2.5 particulates which affect human health.
In response to the Great Smog of 1952, the British Parliament introduced the Clean Air Act 1956. This act legislated for zones where smokeless fuels had to be burnt and relocated power stations to rural areas. The Clean Air Act 1968 introduced the use of tall chimneys to disperse air pollution for industries burning coal, liquid or gaseous fuels. The Clean Air Act was updated in 1993 and can be reviewed online legislation Clean Air Act 1993. The biggest domestic impact comes from Part III, Smoke Control Areas, which are designated by local authorities and can vary by street in large towns.
The primary law regulating air quality in the United States is the U.S. Clean Air Act. The law was initially enacted as the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955. Amendments in 1967 and 1970 (the framework for today's U.S. Clean Air Act) imposed national air quality requirements, and placed administrative responsibility with the newly created Environmental Protection Agency. Major amendments followed in 1977 and 1990. State and local governments have enacted similar legislation, either implementing federal programs or filling in locally important gaps in federal programs.
- USEPA, What Are the Six Common Air Pollutants?
- USEPA, Original list of hazardous air pollutants.
- USEPA, Air Pollutants.
- See Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency.
- See generally U.S. EPA, Air Quality.
- See U.S. EPA NAAQS.
- See OSHA, Indoor Air Quality.
- Worldwide Air Quality Legislation, AirLex.
- See generally, U.S. EPA, Setting Emissions Standards Based on Technology Performance, Building Flexibility with Accountability into Clean Air Programs, and linked materials.
- See U.S. EPA, www.epa.gov/airquality/emission.html Air Pollution Emissions.
- See U.S. EPA, EPA's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions.
- See Union of Concerned Scientists, The Clean Air Act.
- See, e.g., W. Koch, Obama, EPA sued for nixing tougher ozone rules (USA Today).
- Enesta Jones (03/01/2011). "EPA Report Underscores Clean Air Act’s Successful Public Health Protections/Landmark law saved 160,000 lives in 2010 alone". EPA.gov. Retrieved 22 March 2012. Check date values in:
- See generally EPA air quality dockets at www.regulations.gov.
- Draft of Bill C-30: Canada's Clean Air and Climate Change Act
- CTV News article, October 20, 2006
- "Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan (2013-17)". China.org.cn. August 16, 2013. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
- Watership Down author Richard Adams mentions his role in the Clean Air Act 1968
- United Kingdom's Clean Air Acts
- American Jurisprudence, 2d: Pollution Control
- EPA Office of Air and Radiation
- EPA Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act
- US Federal Executive Order: Cooperation Among Agencies in Protecting the Environment with Respect to Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Motor Vehicles, Nonroad Vehicles, and Nonroad Engines.
- Primer on Clean Air Act and Climate Change
- Protection of the atmosphere -- Bibliographies on the topics of the International Law Commission (no. 14 in the list) (UNOG Library)