Air Quality and Climate Change

The influence of clean waterways on our day-to-day lives can be seen in a variety of circumstances, whether it be economically, politically, or in the state of health of the population. Unfortunately, there are some setbacks on the journey to clean waterways. Humanity’s footprint on the environment is a growing concern with industries and governments alike. Demand for clean waterways, clean air, and healthy ecosystems has pushed government and industries to regulate and control environmentally harmful waste. Although many argue that more stringent environmental regulations would hurt the economy, harming our planet will cause damage that far outweighs any temporary economic concerns. State, local, and federal governments need to find a way to balance the needs of businesses with environmental regulation.

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The direct effect air quality has on humans and wildlife is one that cannot be ignored. Yet many industries continue to contribute to air pollution in the form of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide. These types of pollution can be hazardous to human health causing lung disease and other respiratory illnesses. Reports have shown that there is a direct correlation between health and air pollution. As stated by the World Health Organization (WHO) report in 2013, about two million premature deaths annually can be attributed to air pollution. 40,000 of those deaths are in the United States alone (Brumley, 2013). As if that is not alarming enough, when chemical particles and pollutant gases available in the atmosphere react with water molecules and oxygen, they form dangerous acidic compounds. Combining these acidic compounds with forms of precipitation, such as rain or snow, can lead to what is known as acid rain. Acid rain can not only damage the leaves of plants and crops but can also have a major impact on aquatic life and animals thus negatively affecting tourism and agricultural economies (Air Pollution and Water, n.d.). Regarding air pollution, a major culprit can be found in power plants. Approximately forty percent of the carbon dioxide pollution in the United States comes from power plants with coal-fueled plants leading the way (Climate Change Indicators: Greenhouse Gases, 2017). In 2014, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that 2.04 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide were produced by power plants with seventy-six percent coming from coal-fueled plants. The EIA stated that coal-fueled plants also accounted for thirty-nine percent of the electricity produced in the United States, which electricity was also found to be responsible for thirty-one percent of greenhouse gases. For decades, power plant emissions and the air pollution they produce have gone unregulated. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently proposed new rules to govern plant emissions and reduce them by thirty percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030 (Brumley, 2013).

Air pollution does not simply just affect our atmosphere. In fact, it can make its way to our waterways such as lakes, rivers, and oceans. Contaminants in the form of nitrogen compounds have made a significant local impact in our Florida waterways. The element nitrogen is better known for assisting in plant growth. As is the case with most circumstances, too much of a good thing can have adverse effects. Too much of the nitrogen compound in our oceans can cause algae blooms or red tide to occur more frequently by clogging the waterways and unsettling the ecosystem’s balance (Air Pollution and Water, n.d.). These events are more common than ever before and are occurring in its toxic form at a staggering rate. Adding to the damage that hazardous waste has done to our waterways, many outdated power plants continue to use a system known as once-through cooling. To execute the system, the plant pulls in large volumes of water, killing any aquatic life caught in the process, and distorts the environment by rapidly returning water to where it came from at a significantly higher temperature. Modern technology involving cooling systems that use less water and are friendlier to aquatic life, such as closed-cycle cooling, are available, but are not mandated to be used (Protect Waterways from Power Plants, 2016).

The EPA has estimated that approximately 250 million tons of residential and commercial waste were disposed of as recently as 2011. Landfills have begun to contaminate communities by degrading the quality of their surrounding environments rendering these locations unattractive to both tourists and residents. Though we rarely see it with our own eyes, landfills contribute to the compromise of our waterways by attacking our natural resources in the form of direct leachate contamination. This is known to be a major environmental and human health hazard. Leachate is a pollutant that is extremely odorous, black or brown in color, and can be found in liquid form. This liquid contains heavy metals including lead and volatile organic compounds known as VOCs. Steps have been taken to calm the threat of leachate contamination, but no process for it has proven to be 100 percent successful (King, 2019). Adding to the ecological threat posed by landfills is stormwater runoff contamination. Landfills tend to cover hundreds of acres of land which means enormous amounts of rain water will run down landfills and collect in their respective storm water basins. These basins stand a great chance of already being contaminated by hazardous wastes, but the major problem arises when these basins are full of rainwater. As they overflow, the contaminated rain water begins to drain into the surrounding environments seeping its way into the groundwater supply (King, 2019).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the organization responsible for compliance and enforcement of environmental laws passed by the United States Government. They issue policies and guidance and provide these to the public for the community to follow.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency web portal, when an environmental problem is identified, Congress passes a law addressing this problem. At this point, the EPA sinto play issuing regulations to implement the law. Compliance Assistance provides easy to understand resources through the Compliance Assistance Centers, which are organized by industries. The Compliance Assistance Centers are funded by the EPA. The compliance monitoring is the component in charge of inspections to assess compliance. Enforcement actions are taken when the regulated entity is non-compliant. Some of the most important acts and regulations will be discussed below.

According to the EPA, “The Clean Air Act (CAA) is the comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. Among other things, this law authorizes the EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to protect public health and public welfare and to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants.” (Summary of the Clean Air Act/

The main purpose of the Clean Air Act passed in 1970 was to achieve by 1975 the US National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in all states. By 1977, the targeted goal had not been reached and the government decided to amend the act. In 1990, because the specific standards were not met, the act was amended to set new goals because many areas of the country were not close to meeting NAAQS.

The Safe Drinking Water Act passed in 1974 regulates all drinking water and requires cities to keep drinking water at its safest levels. This act allows EPA to establish minimum standards in the quality of water that will potentially be used as drinking water. The city of New York was recently sued due to non-compliance with Safe Drinking Water Act. The city of New York was required to pay $1 million in civil penalties and up to $3 billion are the estimated expenditures due to fix the damage to the water system.

The regulations set by the EPA leave businesses with a lot to consider when major decisions need to be made. Picking the option that makes the most sense financially may not be possible if it were to result in a harmful act to the environment. Businesses today must consider the consequences they could face by disregarding the environment for the sake of their own gains.

This is seen in the case of United States v. Saporito. The United States brought charges against James Saporito and Paul Carr, who were owners of equipment used for an electroplating operation. The charges were brought under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, known as CERCLA. The was an act passed in 1980 in order to bring awareness to sites that were threatening the environment due to leaks, spills or any general mismanagement (Hope, 2013). The identified responsible party must then reimburse the costs of remedial action that the United States Government incurs. In this case specifically, the United States sought $1.5 million to cover the clean-up costs of unsafe materials that seeped into the soil and water at the electroplating site. It was the company’s daily procedures that caused splashes, eventually leading to this major issue of leakage to the ground below. Although there may not be any intentional harm intended by these companies, this act ensures that extra precautions are taken. Companies need to take extra steps to ensure that their basic procedures will not lead to any excessive harm to the environment. These extra steps or pieces of equipment needed to meet these regulations can raise productivity costs for businesses too. Businesses must now consider how strict regulations are in different locations and factor this into where and how they decide to operate. Additionally, the regulations can affect the success that a business has with investors. A highly regulated business will not seem as profitable to outsiders since there will be more compliances that they will have to adhere to (Gray 2015).

Most can agree that pollution is an issue that must be resolved, however there is controversy regarding how the government should regulate businesses. Opponents of tight regulations typically believe that they cause the economy to suffer. Some believe that the regulations are worth any potential economic downturn. The key is to find a balance between these two extremes and work toward finding a balance between economic and environmental health.

Traditional economic theory states that environmental regulations cause increased costs when the business has to allocate scarce resources toward compliance. Those resources are then used on compliance instead of research and development. There have been numerous studies that have shown that environmental regulation may not have the negative economic effect on businesses that many have assumed. A case study of the metal finishing industry in Southern California found that increased air quality regulation did not have a detrimental impact on the growth of the industry (Thomas, 2009). The metal finishing industry traditionally has used hexavalent chromium, a chemical that makes metal products durable, shiny, and visually appealing. Unfortunately, when this chemical is processed and worked into the metal, only 20% of the chemical is deposited onto the object and the rest dissipates into the air. Once emitted into the air, it can be inhaled by local residents and become trapped in the lungs. Even at low levels of concentration, this chemical has been shown to cause respiratory irritation, cancer, ulcers, and stomach and kidney problems. There are often residential areas near metal finishing facilities with high populations, so many are put at risk.

In 1977, in order to protect California citizens, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) was formed. After further research on hexavalent chromium, scientists from California’s Office of Environmental and Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), determined that it was a toxic air contaminant and carcinogen. Exposure, even at trace amounts, was not believed to be safe. Once this was determined, it paved the way for Rule 1169 from the AQMD to be implemented. The metal finishing firms in the area were required to reduce their emissions by 95% to 99%. To adjust to the regulations, metal finishing plants switched to less hazardous materials, improved efficiency in the production process, installed more efficient equipment to reduce waste, redesign products to reduce amount of raw materials used, and installed equipment that captured emissions and controlled pollution. After these processes were implemented, the study compared economic growth of metal finishing plants in Detroit and Chicago with the plants in California. Researchers found that comparing employment growth between the cities was the best way to determine whether or not the regulations had affected economic growth. The comparison indicated that there was no significant difference between the plants (Thomas, 2009).

Dramatic climate changes and growth in environmental consciousness in the last sixty years has pushed governments around the world to act. Going back to England in the 1940s, where combustion engine exhaust and a growing industrial economy were a major contributor to the emergence of smog, acid rain, and other forms of pollutions. With many business finding pollutions as a consequential externality that they bared no responsibility for, people began to look to the government as having an obligation to protect the environment. Governments throughout the world has sought to control certain industries and businesses footprints on the environment. Creating laws and regulations that restrict business from doing certain things such as, dumping waste into our waterways, polluting the air with certain chemicals, and so forth. The environment has been quite the debate in recent decades, but more now as people around the world are starting to feel the repercussion of climate change. There have been many cases settled in court in hopes of diminishing the destruction of the environment, cases such as Sierra Club v. Morton (1972), Massachusetts v. The Environmental Protection Agency (2007), and many more. These two cases changed the perspective on how we humans affect the environment and whether we have a moral responsibility and the right to protect it.

In the case of Sierra Club v. Morton of 1972, a valley in the Sequoia National Forest was up for a bid to be converted into recreational development. In the end, Walt Disney won the bid and started the exploring the valley in hope of creating a ski resort. In hopes of hindering the development of the land the Sierra Club filed preliminary and permanent injunctions against federal officials to thwart Walt Disney’s access to permits granting the development of the valley (Oyez, 2019). Sequentially, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the injunctions based on the facts that, under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), Sierra Club had not procured evidence to show that any of its members had or would endure injuries as a result of the defendant’s actions. (Oyez, 2019). Ultimately, Sierra Club had no grounds to sue Disney. Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, Walt Disney was required to assure proper assessments that their actions would not in any way have a great impact on the environment. NEPA was one of the first laws ever written that establishes the broad national framework for protecting our environment. NEPA’s basic policy is to assure that all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that significantly affects the environment.(EPA, 2018) With many institutions like Sierra Club coming out into the defense of the environment, business began to take notice that their everyday customers do in some way care where the products they buy come from.

In Massachusetts v. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the government took on another role in protecting the environment. The effects of greenhouse gasses on the climate are real and dangerous. In majority, the science community are all in consensus that carbon emission has an adverse impact on the environment. In Massachusetts v. The Environmental Protection Agency, several states petitioned the EPA that it was its job to regulate emission of carbon dioxide and other gases that contributed to global warming from new motor vehicles. (Oyez, 2019) The EPA contested and the denied that it was it was not in their responsibility to regulate harmful gases from vehicles. They also stated that research did not exist to clearly support the fact that these gases were essentially harmful to the environment. The case reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the States due to the State’s stake in protecting its quasi-sovereign interest (Oyez, 2019).

Today, many countries are trying to strike a balance between their economic development goals and environmental protection. It is clear that, from the president of the company to the last worker, and from the president of the government to any citizen, we are all consumers with certain habits of behavior, and on us lays largely the responsibility of contributing to the search for solutions. In fact, often a product is not bad in and of itself, but is the use we make of that product. It is not necessary to mention the state of our beaches or forests, the elimination of domestic waste in urban centers or the noise index in the cities, because much of them have already been written about and we all agree on the regret. Education in environmental matters, which generates behavioral habits and raises the levels of demand, is something necessary if we really want to face the problem successfully. Concisely, we are facing a very concerning situation at the global level and where the only way to take effective measures is through the active participation of all the agents at the same time: government, businesses, and workers.

Many companies are limited to adapting to the regulations related to the environment to avoid sanctions for their activity, but this is not enough. They must go beyond what the legislation says and assume from the company that individual commitment related to the care and respect of the environment in which they operate. It is a responsible company culture, which must reach all workers.

During the last few years, various agreements have been signed that have obligated the authorities to develop initiatives to promote care for the environment. Although for many people these regulations may be harmful to the economy, some studies have shown otherwise.

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Air Quality and Climate Change. (2021, Apr 10). Retrieved December 10, 2022 , from

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