Air Pollution:

States Assigned a Major Role in EPA's Air Toxics Strategy

RCED-87-76: Published: Mar 31, 1987. Publicly Released: May 7, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) strategy to rely more on states to regulate toxic air pollutants, specifically: (1) the status of the strategy; (2) certain legal issues related to state regulation of pollutants; and (3) variances among state air toxics programs.

GAO noted that the EPA strategy of delegating its authority to set standards and regulations for toxic air pollutants and pollution sources raised concerns about legal issues, public health, and industry location implications. GAO found that: (1) the question of whether EPA has the discretion to delegate regulatory responsibility to states instead of issuing national standards is under litigation; (2) although EPA discontinued referring the regulation of toxic air pollutants to states, it continued to identify potential pollution sources in states and furnish them with studies for use in evaluation and regulation; (3) as of May 1968, 17 states had pollution control programs in place and 29 were developing programs; (4) since the state programs vary in terms of the pollutants and sources they regulate, their regulation strategies, and the methods they use to establish acceptable emission levels, then the levels of public exposure to toxic pollutants also vary; and (5) environmental regulation is generally not a significant factor in industry location decisions.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Several bills are being considered by Congress to amend the Clean Air Act. The toxic air pollution issue is subordinate to other air pollution issues and it is not clear the extent it will be addressed if the Clean Air Act is amended.

    Matter: During the reauthorization of the Clean Air Act, Congress may wish to consider the consistency issue and the options available to address it. One option is to retain the status quo, that is, to continue to allow the states discretion in standard setting, compliance monitoring, and enforcement, but continue to provide financial and technical assistance to state air toxics programs. A second option would be for EPA to exercise more control over state air toxics programs.


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