Clean Air

Welcome to the Environmental Compliance and Restoration (ECR) Team’s Air Quality Program Page!  Here you will find information on the ECR team’s role in the Coast Guard air quality compliance program as well as resources to help you navigate this complex environmental compliance program. Additional information regarding the execution of this program, to include process guidance, is provided by the Shore Infrastructure Logistics Center - Environmental Management Division on its CG-Environmental Management Portal Air Emissions page.
We still think of air as free. But clean air is not free, and neither is clean water. The price tag on pollution control is high. Through our years of past carelessness we incurred a debt to nature, and now that debt is being called.
--Richard Nixon
A Brief History of U.S. Air Quality Control  
The Industrial Revolution (1750’s – 1900) known as the period in human history of expansive innovation in mechanized technology ushered in the modern world of machine-driven, mass production and global trade.  Laborious tasks that were once performed manually through hours of human toil were replaced by motorized machines like the steam engine and cotton mill that produced much more work at exponentially faster rates.  Engine-driven transport like the steam-powered locomotive and ships moved great masses of humans and goods long distances as never before.  As a result, societies around the world experienced greatly improved quality of life, and the global human population grew exponentially.  However, progress did not come without a cost.  The engines and furnaces that fueled the Industrial Revolution were powered by what became known as “fossil fuels,” those materials consisting of geologically-formed, decomposed plant and animal matter.  The most widely used fossil fuel during the Industrial Revolution was coal. 
By 1905, nearly one billion tons of coal was being mined annually.  Coal combustion produces smoke otherwise known as air pollution of particulates as well as heat-absorbing and toxic gases.  These pollutants were emitted throughout the Industrial Revolution and into the 20th century without any control or abatement.  This uncontrolled air pollution resulted in what was initially localized degradation of air quality, ultimately leading to disastrous air pollution events causing wide-spread illness and death. 
Click to read about:
·       St. Louis smog of 1939
As a result of the adverse human health affects undeniably contributable to polluted air, local municipalities began passing air quality control laws in the mid 20th century.  These initial measures proved insufficient and the federal government enacted the first national legislation to address air pollution in the 1955 Air Pollution Control Act.  However, this law did not provide measures to “control” the pollution, only to fund research on the issue.  The first federal law to incorporate provisions to control air pollution was the Clean Air Act (CAA), Title 42 of the U.S. Code Chapter 85 Sections 7401 et seq, passed in 1963, with the purpose to:
  1. to protect and enhance the quality of the Nation’s air resources so as to promote the public health and welfare and the productive capacity of its population;
  2. to initiate and accelerate a national research and development program to achieve the prevention and control of air pollution;
  3. to provide technical and financial assistance to State and local governments in connection with the development and execution of their air pollution prevention and control programs; and
  4. to encourage and assist the development and operation of regional air pollution prevention and control programs.
Since its beginnings, the CAA has been amended numerous times, with substantial changes made in 1970, 1977, and again in 1990.  Through the evolution of the CAA and regulatory enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the states, air quality has significantly improved across the U.S.  The deleterious effects of smog, acid rain, and ground-level ozone have diminished substantially, but maintaining healthy air quality is an ongoing endeavor that involves the cooperation of all sectors in society. 
Federal facilities have the following responsibilities with regard to achieving and maintaining compliance with CAA requirements:
  • Obtaining necessary construction/modification and operating permits
  • Maintaining emissions within regulatory and/or permitted levels known as the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP)
  • Complying with acid rain permit requirements at large utilities and power plants
  • Complying with State Implementation Plan requirements also known as the General Conformity Rule
  • Complying with requirements and limitations on mobile sources 
  • Developing risk management plans where required
  • Managing required recordkeeping and reporting
  • Complying with requirements for ozone depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol
EPA and state enforcement of Federal Facilities pursuant to Clean Air Act authority:
As a federal organization, all Coast Guard units must comply with all federal, state, local, and tribal CAA requirements.  However, in special circumstances as determined by the President, an emission source may be exempted if it is in the “paramount interest” of the United States.  Other exemptions for property of the Armed Forces may be exempted by the President for three-year intervals.
The US EPA is authorized by the CAA to bring suit or take alternative action against individuals or facilities causing imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health or the environment.  Additionally, the CAA authorizes EPA to issue a compliance order or negotiate alternative agreements with alleged federal violators.
The EPA may assess civil administrative penalties for noncompliance of CAA requirements.  The EPA may also pursue actions against federal employees for criminal violations of the CAA.
While the U.S. EPA is the primary regulating authority, like most other federal statutes the CAA is primarily implemented by states, local and tribal authorities which have been delegated implementing and regulatory authority by EPA.