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Clean Air Act Overview

The Clean Air Act (CAA) and its amendments, including the Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) of 1990, are designed to "protect and enhance the nation's air resources so as to promote the public health and welfare and the productive capacity of the population." The CAA consists of six sections, known as Titles, which direct EPA to establish national standards for ambient air quality and for EPA and the States to implement, maintain, and enforce these standards through a variety of mechanisms. Under the CAAA, many facilities will be required to obtain permits for the first time. State and local governments oversee, manage, and enforce many of the requirements of the CAAA. CAA regulations appear at 40 CFR Parts 50-99.

Pursuant to Title I of the CAA, EPA has established national ambient air quality standards (NAAQSs) to limit levels of "criteria pollutants," including carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone, and sulfur dioxide. Geographic areas that meet NAAQSs for a given pollutant are classified as attainment areas; those that do not meet NAAQSs are classified as non-attainment areas areas (see a list of ozone non-attainment areas). Under section 110 of the CAA, each State must develop a State Implementation Plan (SIP) to identify sources of air pollution and to determine what reductions are required to meet Federal air quality standards. Revised NAAQSs for particulates and ozone were passed in 1996.

Title I also authorizes EPA to establish New Source Performance Standards (NSPSs), which are nationally uniform emission standards for new stationary sources falling within particular industrial categories. NSPSs are based on the pollution control technology available to that category of industrial source.

Under Title I, EPA establishes and enforces National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs), nationally uniform standards oriented towards controlling particular hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). Title I, section 112(c) of the CAA further directed EPA to develop a list of sources that emit any of 189 HAPs, and to develop regulations for these categories of sources. To date EPA has listed 174 categories and developed a schedule for the establishment of emission standards. The emission standards will be developed for both new and existing sources based on "maximum achievable control technology" (MACT). The MACT is defined as the control technology achieving the maximum degree of reduction in the emission of the HAPs, taking into account cost and other factors. Title I, section 112(r) directed EPA to develop a list of hazardous chemicals and regulations to control and prevent accidental releases of these chemicals. Owners and operators of facilities at which such substances are present in more than a threshold quantity will have to prepare risk management plans for each substance used at the facility. EPA may also require annual audits and safety inspections to prevent leaks and other episodic releases.

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