Looking Back at Fifty Years of the Clean Air Act
After major expansion in 1970, the Clean Air Act led to substantial emissions reductions and health improvements—as well as some unintended consequences.
Since 1970, transportation, power generation, and manufacturing have dramatically transformed as air pollutant emissions fell significantly. To evaluate the causal impacts of the Clean Air Act on these changes, we synthesize and review retrospective analyses of air quality regulations. The geographic heterogeneity in regulatory stringency common to many regulations has important implications for emissions, public health, compliance costs, and employment. Cap-and-trade programs have delivered greater emission reductions at lower cost than conventional regulatory mandates, but policy practice has fallen short of the cost-effective ideal. Implementing regulations in imperfectly competitive markets have also influenced the Clean Air Act’s benefits and costs.
- Spatially varying regulations can impose substantial costs on local economies.
- Current applications of market-based mechanisms may fall short of cost-saving expectations.
- Varying fuel content regulations across the United States may impose unnecessary costs on consumers in separated markets.
- Regulatory flexibility for fuel content rules doesn’t always yield cost-effective results.
- Unanticipated costs arising from overly optimistic technology projections are an important issue in the design of renewable fuel requirements.
Joseph E. Aldy
Joe Aldy is a university fellow at RFF and professor of the practice of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. His research focuses on climate change policy, energy policy, and mortality risk evaluation.
Maureen L. Cropper
Maureen Cropper is a a senior fellow at RFF, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, a member of the Board of Directors at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Arthur G. Fraas
Arthur Fraas is a visiting fellow at Resources for the Future. At RFF, Fraas works on a variety of issues related to energy and the environment, including projects looking at issues and tradeoffs with energy efficiency regulations, and more.
Journal Article — Mar 15, 2022
Looking Back at 50 Years of the Clean Air Act
An article coauthored by several RFF scholars in the Journal of Economic Literature looks back at the contributions of the Clean Air Act to the vast air quality improvements seen since 1970.
RFF Live — Mar 22, 2022
Climate Change and the Supreme Court
Examining US court cases that will play a large role in determining the future of US climate policy and environmental regulation