WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, released the following statement to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
“Today, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. We celebrate the millions of American lives saved and hundreds of millions of lives made better by this law. And, as we celebrate this progress, we are reminded what we can achieve by working together to meet our nation’s greatest challenges.
“In 1990, I was a member of the House of Representatives. In the House, I had the privilege of working alongside the late John Dingell, who was the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. As Chairman Dingell said at the time, clean air was, ‘one of the most difficult, divisive, complex, costly and important issues’ that Congress ever had to confront. And yet – despite all of the difficulty and division, the complexity of the issue and the fear of its costs – 400 members of the House and 89 senators sent the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 to Republican President George H.W. Bush’s desk. Sweeping, progressive reforms were signed into law with overwhelming bipartisan support.
“How? Well, it was clear that our nation was facing an air quality crisis, and it was clear to both parties that this crisis demanded swift and sweeping action. Power plants and factories emitted pollution that formed clouds of toxic soot. Acid rain fell from our skies, corroding our infrastructure, damaging our forests and polluting our waters. The ozone layer was rapidly depleting. The cars, trucks and vans on our roads created smog that suffocated our communities. Air toxics like mercury, lead and arsenic polluted the air we breathed and the fish we consumed, building up in our bodies, leading to higher rates of cancer and other deadly ailments. The worsening environmental and public health crises all around us were impossible to ignore, and they galvanized bipartisan momentum.
“Congress mustered the courage and resolve to meet our nation’s air quality crisis with a response commensurate with the risks it posed. As a result, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 was hailed a ‘historic breakthrough.’ The law addressed these difficult and complex problems with solutions that ensured low costs and long-lasting benefits for the environment and public health. In fact, the benefits of the Clean Air Act continue to exceed its costs by a factor of more than 30 to one, and the landmark law saves more than 240,000 lives each year.
“Like the Constitution itself, the Clean Air Act has stood the test of time because it created an adaptable roadmap to ensuring every American has an essential right—the right to have clean air to breathe. While enduring 30 years of attacks from polluting industries and hostile administrations alike, the Clean Air Act remains intact today because it is essential and because it can evolve based on science. Every single person in this country depends on the Clean Air Act. And as scientists work to learn more about the link between air pollution and human health, Clean Air Act regulations can adapt to the latest science, the changes to our economy and the challenges facing of our planet.
“As we celebrate the progress made over the last 30 years, we must also look forward to the future. Our nation enjoys cleaner air than we did 30 years ago, but our work to ensure clean air for everyone is far from over. In too many communities – especially in communities of color and Indigenous communities – people are still struggling to breathe on high pollution days. In too many communities, pollution still poisons the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we put on the table. In too many communities, the most vulnerable among us are still experiencing the worst impacts of climate change, while more rampant wildfires and other climate impacts continue to worsen air quality.
“Fortunately, President-elect Biden understands the problems facing our communities. He and Vice President-elect Harris have made clear that their administration will defend and use their Clean Air Act authorities to ensure every American in every zip code has clean air to breathe. The adaptable roadmap and clear authorities laid out by this landmark law will also provide the next administration with an indispensable tool in the fight against climate change. The Clean Air Act can help us confront and overcome one of most difficult, complex and important issues facing our nation and our planet—the climate crisis.
“We can be hopeful about the prospects for bipartisan action that meets the challenges of our day. That’s what today reminds us. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the climate crisis, we can take on the challenges facing Americans in their everyday lives. We have done it before and we can do it again.”