Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act

In 2010, the Clean Air Act marked its 40th anniversary, and according to the EPA, during those first forty years, it has successfully accomplished many of its goals. Not only have the six major air pollutants, been decreased by 41%, but it has been estimated that the Act has prevented some 200,000 premature deaths, and nearly 700,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, since it was signed by President Richard Nixon on December 31, 1970. In General, the Environmental Protection Agency has determined that the benefits of the Act have far outweighed the cost.

The Environmental Protection Agency notes that, for the most part, the overall quality of the air in cities and communities across the country has improved dramatically, however, there is still a lot to be done. In response to criticism over the cost of initiating certain programs, they point out that money has been saved in health care throughout the years, and that during the period since the Act has been initiated, the Gross Domestic Product has increased by over 64%.

In a report to Congress for the period from 1990 to 2010, the National Center for Environmental Economics estimated that the total monetary benefit from the Clean Air Act in 2010 would total approximately $110 billion dollars. This figure is estimated by various expenses that are directly related to air quality such as lost work days, emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and days when activities would normally be curtailed due to poor air quality. It was estimated that in 2010, due to the Clean Air Act and the Amendments of 1990, which addressed issues such as acid rain, ozone depletion and toxic air pollution, as well as emissions from gasoline, that 23,000 Americans would be saved from premature death. It was also estimated that the Act would prevent 1,700,000 cases of asthma and 4,100,000 lost work days.

Estimates of the cost of implementing the Clean Air Act were expected to be somewhere in the vicinity of $27 billion. This is, as the EPA points out, a very small fraction of the predicted overall savings of $110 billion.

Apart from the usual findings on work related illnesses, lost time, and health costs that are taken into consideration, other factors have yet to be taken into account, and are more difficult to assign to a specific dollar amount. Exact data on cancer causing air toxics, ecosystems, and benefits to agriculture, through the reduction of pollutants have not yet been determined.