The Failures of Compliance, Abatement and Mitigation
- New Horizons in Environmental Politics series
Chapter 3: Failure at the end of the pipe, or why acid rain will be a problem as long as we burn coal
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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