An Executive Summary:

16 Air and Water Pollution Issues Facing the Nation

CED-78-148A: Published: Oct 11, 1978. Publicly Released: Oct 11, 1978.

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The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 and 1977 and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 and 1977 were enacted to deal with air and water pollution nationwide. Air quality legislation is intended to protect the public health and welfare from air pollution, and water quality legislation is meant to eliminate the discharge of pollutants and to have swimmable and fishable waters. Programs for achieving these goals have resulted in a cleaner environment, but billions have been spent to date on pollution controls. During the period from 1975 to 1984, about $423 billion may be spent on pollution control by government and industry.

To set priorities in achieving environmental goals, some basic questions must be answered: how much environmental protection is needed; when is it needed; what is the best way of obtaining it; and what price is the Nation willing to pay. The goals of pollution control legislation are basically sound except for the goal to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into waterways. However, regulatory adjustments are needed to resolve certain major issues. Among these are: energy development, conservation, and independence; environmental protection and improvement; economic growth and stability; economic efficiency and equity; public health and welfare; and inflation. Policies should be coordinated, and issues should be considered as a whole rather than separately. Solutions should be sought for the total pollution problem rather than for some parts at the expense of others, but present pollution laws and programs do not usually allow for such tradeoffs. Sixteen major pollution control issues identified by GAO dealt with goals, standards, implementation, requirements, monitoring, siting, grants management, planning, cost-benefit analysis, and alternatives.

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