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Multimedia: Legal, business experts discuss Clean Air Act’s 40 years of successes and failures

April 21, 2010

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Forty years ago, the U.S. government significantly expanded federal regulation and enforcement of contaminants released into the air.

On April 22 and 23, Lewis & Clark Law School and the Environmental and Natural Resources program will bring legal, environmental, and business experts together to examine what the Clean Air Act has accomplished and what lies ahead for air quality and regulation issues.

In 1970, the Clean Air Act gave legal teeth to clean-air legislation first enacted in 1963. These significant changes came against the backdrop of an Ohio river catching fire and a made-for-TV movie warning against the health dangers of smog. The country was celebrating the feat of putting a man on the moon and wondering what other ways technology could be put to good use.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the federal agency charged with overseeing the Act, monitors the Act’s impact to weigh the costs of implementing of the Act against its benefits.  One of the most noticeable outcomes to date has been the significant reduction of lead in the air.

The conference, titled Clean Air Act at a Crossroads: Turning 40, Confronting Climate Change, is designed to offer serious discussion about how and why the legislation has succeeded in some ways and failed in improving air quality in others.

Aubrey Baldwin J.D. ’05, a clinical professor of law and staff attorney for Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center, a Lewis & Clark environmental law clinic, has become a leading expert in air-quality law. Most recently, she represented environmental organizations in a case to require a coal-fire plant in Oregon to meet Clean Air Act requirements or close.

The U.S. Congress has revised the Clean Air Act to reflect new scientific research and technologies available to improve air quality, most notably in 1990. The conference will explore the Act’s potential to meet future challenges. One important question Baldwin will explore in a conference panel she is moderating is the relevance of the Act in an age of global climate change.

“The environment is constantly changing,” Baldwin said. “Our understanding of how different systems work is constantly evolving as is technology. The great thing about the Clean Air Act is that it has both static and technology-forcing provisions to adapt to changing needs.”

But in an age of global climate concerns, Baldwin points out, some skeptics believe a global approach is needed in the form of treaties and other multi-national agreements.

In this video, she discusses the Clean Air Act’s relevance, the challenges of protecting air quality, and life in Portland, Oregon—ranked one of the “greenest” places to live.