American Environmental Policy

American Environmental Policy

The Failures of Compliance, Abatement and Mitigation

New Horizons in Environmental Politics series

Daniel Press

More than 40 years after the United States launched bold efforts to curb pollution and waste, American environmental management has stalled. Drawing extensively on recent enviornmental science, engineering, regulatory agency data and trade information, American Environmental Policy explores how environmental management in the US has fallen short of its early promise and reputation. Arguing that policies need to be redesigned for the 21st century, this book offers examples and principles of effective environmental policy reforms. It concludes with suggestions for how new policies should be designed, as well as examples of successfull regulatory innovations already in practice around the world.

Chapter 3: Failure at the end of the pipe, or why acid rain will be a problem as long as we burn coal

Daniel Press

Subjects: environment, environmental politics and policy, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy


The two titans of US pollution law, the 1970 Clean Air Act and the 1972 Clean Water Act, epitomize the best and worst of end-of-pipe regulation. Both acts forced major advances in pollution abatement technology, although there was plenty of pollution management know-how to work with by the late 1960s. At the time these laws were passed, some municipalities around the country had required more than primary treatment of wastewater effluent; similarly, air pollution could be removed with the precursors of today’s scrubbers, baghouses and electrostatic precipitators. But most of the nation’s largest emitters were not required to operate the very best technologies then available; only three scrubbers were in operation when the 1970 Clean Air Act was passed (Ackerman and Hassler, 1981, p. 16). And because so few air polluters were removing particulate matter (soot), smokestack emissions were especially visible reminders of the nation’s pollution woes. The architects of the new US environmental laws drew unprecedented political support for cleaning up air and water pollution, but they faced many uncertainties about how they should proceed. Perhaps the most fundamental choice came down to regulations that would eliminate a pollutant altogether versus reducing it to acceptable levels.

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