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Weeds Time Machine: The Clean Air Act


Buckle up! The Weeds Time Machine is back. Today, Dylan Matthews, Dara Lind, and special guest Maureen Cropper, economist and professor at the University of Maryland, travel back in time to the 1970s to discuss one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation of the 20th century: the Clean Air Act. 


White paper: Looking Back at 50 Years of the Clean Air Act 


Dylan Matthews (@dylanmatt), senior correspondent, Vox

Dara Lind (@dlind), Weeds co-host, Vox


Sofi LaLonde, producer and engineer

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
I don't know if you've been on Facebook lately, but it is a mess. There's AI spam everywhere and most of it is weirdly religious. Jesus in all of his forms are very common. It's like Jesus with a birthday cake next to deformed children. There's also a lot of Jesus with ripped men, like just really strong like bodybuilder types and as well as with hot flight attendants. I'm Taylor Lorenz and this week on Power User we'll talk about what it means when one of the defining social networks of our time becomes an AI spam graveyard and who's behind it all. Lately, it seems like everyone is aggrieved about something. We're living at a mo- In time when there's a sort of political and cultural currency to portraying yourself as a victim. I'm Preet Bharara and this week...
New York Times opinion writer and author Frank Bruni joins me on my podcast, Stay Tuned with Preet, to discuss... Discuss the mentality of victimhood across the political spectrum and why humility is the perfect antidote. Episode is out now. Search and follow Stay Tuned with Preet wherever you get your podcasts. Hell yeah! Hello and welcome to another episode of The Weeds. I'm your host, Dylan Matthews, and today we are traveling back in time. That's right folks, The Weeds time machine.
Is back. We need to finish! In the beginning there was energy, without source, without destination. And then came man, who took coal and burned it for heat. Okay, maybe not that far back, only about 50 years or so. It's the end of the 60s, a decade of profound social and political change. In the beginning of the 70s, another decade of profound change. Really, there's just a lot going on. On. Nixon. I, Richard Bilhouse Nixon, do solemnly swear... He was elected in part...
As a reaction against those movements. And he's continuing the Vietnam War, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths every year. A President of the United States. A President of the United States. And will to the best of your ability. Another social movement Meant that was growing rapidly at this time was environmentalism. Things were getting really bad in the American environment. Were driving high polluting cars that still used leaded gas, and the air and water were becoming visibly dirty. The Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so polluted that it repeatedly caught on fire. And rivers, if you will recall, are made out of water, which should not catch on fire. Some river, chocolate brown, oily, bubbling with... Subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows. Anyone who falls into the Cuyahoga does not drown, Cleveland citizens joke grimly. He decays.
So, here we are. January 22nd, 1970, and President Richard Nixon, who is so hostile to most 60 social movements, makes a surprising announcement. Uses the State of the Union address to embrace environmental protection. Is, Shall we surrender to our surroundings or shall we... We make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land, and to our water. And Nixon actually does several things to address environmental issues in 1970 alone, National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. He issues various regulatory executive orders, and he--
establishes the Environmental Protection Agency by the end of the year. But today we're talking about one of the most famous policies of 1970, the Clean Air Act. Piece of environmental legislation that lead the groundwork for nationwide air quality standards and other anti-pollution regulations. Stepping into the weeds time machine with me today, our regular co-host Darla Lind. On the time machine. And our special guest, Dr. Maureen Cropper. Thanks for inviting me. Dr. Cropper, or Maureen as she prefers to be called, is a distinguished university professor at the University of Maryland. Her work specializes in the economics of environmental policy.
Policy and Regulations, and she's also the co-author of today's white paper, which is called Looking Back at 50 Years of the Clean Air Act. We are thrilled to have Maureen join us today and help us understand the significance of this landmark policy. So Maureen, we just heard about some of the social and political changes that were happening in the US at the end of the 60s. But our pollution problem was getting pretty bad long before that. Can you walk us through what the situation was in 1950s and 60s sort of leading up to this policy. - Sure, I can do better than that. I can go back to the 40s. So... In the 1940s in Pittsburgh, you had to put your headlights on. At eleven o'clock in the morning in order to drive down the street many men had to change shirts twice a day
middle of the afternoon. Every building in town was ugly with grime. What people were seeing was particulate matter. Pittsburgh was Steel City and a lot of... Coal was being burned to produce steel. In 1948, in Dnore, Pennsylvania, which is about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, in October there was a temperature inversion and... Emissions from a zinc plant, this included sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, these were trapped in the atmosphere for five days. 20 people died immediately and 6,000 were hospitalized. This is in a town of 14,000 people. Eventually 50 people died as a result of this episode. So it's these sorts of things that helped to trigger the 1955 Air Pollution Control Act in the U.S., which provided funds
for air pollution research. And in 1963, the Clean Air Act of '63 gave the federal government regulatory authority over air pollution and established control for air pollution within the US public health service. - Yeah, that is one important nuance here, that the 1970 bill is technically the Clean Air Act Amendments Bill of 1970. It's strengthening this foundation that was laid in 1970. When we talked about this earlier, you were also explaining to me that there was a lot of sort of state action to try to get this problem under control before 1970. What did that kind of look like? So in Pittsburgh, there was really a huge reduction in particulates, about 50 percent between the 40s and the 60s. There were reductions in New York City states, including California, which also passed an air pollution control bill back in 1940.
States did realize that this was a problem and so there definitely were, at least in certain places in the US, declining air pollution trends before 1970. But there was still a lot to be done. Something I'm curious about in kind of looking at this unfolding history is that it's happening on two tracks, right? And both the federal government and state governments appear to recognize that there's some role for them in solving this problem. And you know, obviously air pollution is like the most classic of all collective action problems for reasons that are pretty obvious to anyone who's ever breathed air. But I'm interested in kind of how... That played out, that the federal government wasn't saying, well, the states are already on it, and at the same time, the states weren't--
saying, Well, this has to be a collective problem, and therefore we shouldn't be trying to pass state bills because we can't do it alone. So one of the issues here is that air pollution travels. So it's wonderful, you know, in a large state like California that they can tackle... Air pollution problems within the state borders, but even California has to worry about pollution. Coming from neighboring states. And that becomes a real problem when you look at the Eastern US. And so the-- Need for federal regulation really does come from the fact that air pollution crosses borders. If you were simply to allow states to do it, you might expect an outcome where there would be really stringent regulations in the middle of a state, but... You might want to have your polluting sources actually locate on the state border upwind of the next.
Date and so so that is really why you need Something done at the federal level, but then of course you also need states to actually monitor and enforce regulations, which is what happened under the 1970 Clean Air Act. I wanted to talk a bit about some of the specific kinds of pollution that we're talking about here. So you mentioned particulate matter. What physically is that? What do we mean when we talk about particulate matter? - So particulate matter is. Literally anything suspended in the air, but we think about, for example, when coal is burned or cement is manufactured, particles will be distributed into the air. Particulate matter also comes when you have gaseous pollutants like nitrogen oxides, which come out of motor vehicles as well as factories, or sulfur dioxide, which used to come out in great quantities.
From power plants, those gaseous pollutants react with ammonia in the air and that forms fine particles so particu... So, particulate matter is coming both directly from industrial processes and burning of fossil fuels, but it's also coming from what we call secondary particle formation. And, you know, to be honest... With you of all the ambient pollution that we worry about particulate matter has been linked very closely to cardiovascular and respiratory illness, premature mortality, huge impacts there. One of the constituents of of particulate matter is lead. And so back in the 1970s and before, actually into the 80s, people's biggest source of lead exposure in the U.S. was actually ambient lead coming out of the tailpipes of gasoline-powered vehicles that used leaded gasoline. So it's a constituent of...
Particulate matter but as we all know it has tremendous negative impacts on brain development in children, personality development in children. Development, can reduce IQ and so forth. You mentioned earlier that the preliminary Clean Air Act established new avenues for research and that ultimately this was seen as under the purview of the public health service. How much of these health impacts that you've been talking about were known at the time? That research was still kind of coming together, how was it immediately understood as like not just a quality of life issue or an ecological issue, but specifically as a public health issue? - There were these episodes and people could see sort of the immediate effects, you know, people dying immediately. In terms of the epidemiological literature, which has really spurred, I would say,
amendments to the 1970 Clean Air Act, a lot of that research really didn't get going and wasn't published until the mid-90s when work by Arden Pope and colleagues, Doug Dockery and colleagues, was published. So those studies really actually followed, so to speak, the Clean Air Act. What was used really to justify strengthening the Clean Air Act was these studies that... As I said, really didn't come out until the late 1990s. - And right now in 2022, when we talk about emissions and pollutants, we're often talking about carbon dioxide, methane, sort of greenhouse gases. That was less part of the conversation as the cleaner.
Was being discussed and debated, right? Originally, that was not really the motivating force. Certainly, you could have co-benefits in reducing carbon dioxide if you reduced reliance on coal, switched from coal to natural gas, and so forth. But that really was not the motivating force behind the 1970 Clean Air Acts or the 1977. So tell us a bit about where the politics of-- Clean air was as this bill comes along. You have Richard Nixon as president. We think of him as pretty conservative and very skeptical of government. You see the first Earth Day. Sort of what are some of the political factors that lead into this becoming an asset? policy. Well, I'm not an expert on the politics, but I would say that When you see over 20 million people protesting on Earth Day in 1970,
1970, you certainly think of this having political ramifications. Earth Day demonstrations began in practically every city and town in the United States this morning, the first massive nationwide protest against the pollution of the environment. And lo and behold, President Nixon does issue an executive order in the summer of 1970. The situation was sufficiently concerning. It was concerning also about water pollution as well as air pollution that something indeed had to be done. The time was ripe. Part of why Nixon helping create the EPA and pass the Clean Air Act Amendments was so strange
He was often kind of hostile to hippies, or what he viewed as sort of extreme environmentalists. Like, 1970, you saw the first Earth Day, and he was pretty hostile to it. -Mr. Nixon this day also avoided any participation. The White House attitude toward Earth Day was one of benign neglect. The president's personal posture was one of -- Detachment. Right. I mean, Nixon runs and wins in 1968 on hippie punching backlash. You know, especially with regard to the kind of crime and disorder fears, but also kind of anti-anti-war stuff. And in our current under- Standing of the 60s, the birth of the environmental movement is really tied into all of that kind of youth politics and hippie unrest. And you know, what Maureen's been talking about in terms of the acute events that have sharpened political interest in doing something about air pollution are really a useful way to understand this.
Isn't like successful lobbying on the part of, you know, Greenpeace for 20 years, but rather, you know, people who had not previously perceived this as being a politicized issue. Seeing it as something that government ought to take care of. And because it hadn't yet been politically polarized, Nixon was able to step in and say, Yes, this is a thing that government can do. Last week the Harris Poll revealed that the number one issue on the minds of most Americans today is the sad state of the environment It has become almost a beneficent national obsession. Well, Congress has reflected the mood by passing a stringent anti-pollution law, and today The president signed it. I think that 1970 will be known as the year of the beginning in which we... He really began to move on the problems of clean air and clean water and open spaces for the future generations of America. We're going to take a quick break.
But when we come back, we're going to talk about what the actual policy entailed and what enforcement of the Clean Air Act looked like. So stay with us. Support for the show comes from Washington wise, an original podcast from Charles Schwab. Decisions made in Washington affect your portfolio every day. See changes should investors be watching Washington wise. An original podcast for investors from Charles Schwab tracks the stories making news right now and breaks them down for the average investor host. Mike Townsend, Charles Schwab's managing director for legislative and regulatory affairs, takes a non. Partisan look at the stories that matter most to investors. He explores topics like policy initiatives for retirement savings, taxes and trade, inflation fears, the Federal Reserve and how regulatory developments can affect companies, sectors and even the entire market. In every episode, Mike.
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Was setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards. So these were set for PM, for SO2, NOx, lead, ozone, and carbon monoxide. And what was going to be done to enforce these was... To say to states, You have to come up with implementation plans that will actually make your state in attainment with these standards. At first what was done was to actually characterize air quality control regions. There were 240 Seven of them, there still are, and to determine whether they were inattainment or out of attainment. And states had to issue emission standards for power plants and for factories. In non-attainment areas to tell them, Look, you've got to reduce your emissions. They had to guarantee that...
In attainment areas, indeed, you would stay in attainment. So the task was really left to the states. They had to come up with these plans by May of 1975. So that's a big part of the 1970 Clean Air Act amendments. In terms of motor vehicles, the idea was that the federal government would set-- Uniform standards for the entire country for new vehicles. And the goal originally was to reduce NOx, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons 90% by 1976. That didn't happen. These deadlines were extended. In the case of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, they were extended to 1983 and for NOx to 1985. Another thing that did happen in terms of regulations issued under the 1970 Clean Air Act amendments.
Was the phasing out of lead and gasoline. So there was a phase down rule issued in 1973. It was defended in the courts, upheld by the courts in '76. And the final rule was issued in 1980. There were also what are called new source performance standards. So standards that say, gosh, if you were starting to construct a factory, it has to obey more stringent standards. Than existing factories. So I think those were all really important features of the 1970 Act. So because the kind of geographical enforcement of this is such an important component with the difference between attainment and non-attainment areas, can you talk a little bit about how those were determined?
and what the expectation was for setting these two levels of designation? It was difficult to set non-attainment status because in terms of monitors that existed back in 1970, I mean, for a particulate matter, I think there were actually, I think I'm correct, fewer than a thousand counties.
That actually had particulate monitors in them. So here you are determining whether you're in attainment with these ambient standards, and you have to rely a lot, frankly, on the air quality modeling. But the idea of declaring an air quality region and by extension a county out of attainment was that implicitly there were gonna be more stringent regulations on those counties. And I must say, when we look at the impacts of the Clean Air Act, what economists do is to say, okay, regulations had to be more stringent in non-attainment counties. We're gonna treat that as an exogenous regulation imposed on these counties so that we can actually view these
the treated counties in terms of regulation and the attainment counties as the controls, the ones that have already achieved the NACs. And that makes it nice for economists trying to figure out effects later. Exactly, right. Right, you need some geographic variation in regulation in order to study its effect using modern quasi-experimental methods, yes, exactly. And this does point at something important, which is that as evidenced by the 1970 bill actually being a set of amendments, this is kind of an avoidable amendment. All being policy, that you have more amendments in 1977 with making it county by county. 1990, you have an acid rain program. Tell me a bit of that history and sort of how it evolved through congressional action after 1970.
What I would say spurred the '77 Amendments was the realization that there were a lot of areas that were not in attainment with the ambient standards. One of the key features of the '77 Amendments was actually to say, Look, if you're going If you're a plant and you want to locate in a non-attainment county, you're a plant. Actually going to have to buy permits from plants that already operate in that county Total emissions are not going to increase so that actually began with the 77 amendments and also if you're going to locate in that County have to use what we call the LAER, the lowest achievable emission rate, for the process that you're engaged in. So there are much more stringent end-of-pipe standards. For firms that are in non-attainment counties, plus there is this need to actually buy permits
Another really important part of that, of the 77 amendments was to say, okay, for power plants... We have new source performance standards that are going to require a percentage reduction in your sulfur dioxide emissions, which effectively you can achieve only by putting a scrubber of flue gas desulfate. Sulfurization unit on the plant. So you really are requiring the scrubbing of sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants because of the 77. Amendments. Moving on to the 1990 amendments, there were still of course... Emissions from power plants in 1990. Something like 15 million tons of SO2 coming out of coal fired power plants.
Plants. So the idea there was, okay, let's try to reduce the cost of regulation by starting a pollution permit market. Instead of saying to each power plant, you can emit no more than, let's say, 1.2 pounds of energy. Of SO2 for every million BTUs of heat input, we're going to give permits to each plant. If you're able to reduce your emissions cheaply, let's say you're a plant located closer to the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. Where there's low sulfur coal, then you're gonna reduce your emissions below the number of permits you have. You're going to sell those permits to power plants in the east That would find it much more expensive to transport coal from the Powder River Basin this is going to reduce the cost at least the aggregate cost of reducing SO2 emissions compared to how
having a uniform performance standard. This was also followed also in the Knox budget program, which we might get to, which was to reduce NOX emissions from power plants. So that is a big part, I think, of the 1990 amendments, and one that really people, especially economists, point to. - So yeah, let's talk about-- NOX since that that's it seems like an important part of this and and as you say it's sort of the approach toward NOX emissions involved a degree of cap and trade which became a really important model for all kinds of environmental stuff. So was NOx-- Does it do and sort of how did, how was the EPA's and the Clean Air Act's approach to it different from the way they'd been doing environmental policy up to that point?
So really produced whenever you're burning fossil fuel, even by the year 2000. You're still getting the bulk, and I mean like maybe 80 percent of NOx coming out of motor vehicles. But, the idea in the Knox budget program was, Okay, we will have a permit trading system This is going to involve 19 states in the eastern US and instead of... Once again, having a uniform performance standard, we will allow them to trade the right to emit NOx. There are studies that have indeed shown that the NOx budget program was very successful in reducing emissions compared to Power plants, because they were the main emitters that were being targeted here in states that weren't part of the NOx budget program.
Also by comparing winter emissions and summer emissions, 'cause the idea was to reduce these NOx emissions in the summer to reduce ozone. So an excellent study by Deschen, Shapiro and Greenstone actually shows like a 40% reduction in NOx emissions as a result of the NOx budget program. Is also that this was, you know, a cheaper way of reducing the emissions than simply having a uniform performance standard. We're gonna take a break and when we come back we're gonna About Maureen's new white paper with her colleagues on the effects of the Clean Air Act, what we know about its effect on health and our current environment, and what we don't know and still need to learn. So stay with us.
All right, so our white paper this week, which we were discussing with one of its authors in a rare privilege, is titled Looking Back at 50 Years of the Clean Air Act by Marine Cropper, Joseph Aldi, Maximilian Offhammer, Arthur Frost, and Richard Morgenstern. Marine, what were you hoping to do with this paper? What kind of questions were you trying to answer or summarize in doing this? I would say we had three main questions. The first one was, was there really causal evidence that the Clean Air Act was responsible for these huge declines in ambient air pollution that we've observed since the 1970s? Then we wanted to say, okay, what is the evidence for -- Particular health benefits associated with the Clean Air Act. What can we really say in a causal way as opposed to associating...
Associations that have been established, although convincing associations, but associations that have been established by epidemiologists. And then the third question had to do with costs. So there's both the issue of what did the Clean Air Act and its amendments cost, but also to what extent were these market-based approaches really successful? In reducing costs and what were in some sense perhaps the unintended costs. I mean were there a job losses that occurred as a result of the Clean Air Act? Did it change changed the location of industry? Did it cause workers to lose significant amounts of income? Nerd out a little bit on like how what a properly causal study in this space looks like because obviously air pollution very diffuse Also, obviously, you know, we're trying to compare to the counterfact of if you know if the law hadn't been passed. And of course there are also these you know there's already some
That are done in the ex ante studies that the EPA had to do before issuing any regulations about what they expected. So like, what's kind of the gold standard for research that you would look to and say, this is really isolating the impact of this particular regulation? - Okay, well, as I mentioned earlier, we have counties that have been labeled non-attainment counties and counties that have been labeled attainment counties. So if we. Really think of the Clean Air Act as being the force behind non-attainment status, which it was, then suppose we look at the difference in, let's say, particulate ambient particulate In a non-attainment county before the Clean Air Act and after. We look at that change and we actually compute... The similar change for the Attainment County. If the change in the Non-Attainment County is larger
In the county, we can say, assuming that the counties really looked the same back in the past, that the Clean Air Act resulted in this greater reduction. It's a situation where you need both the treated counties, which are the non-attainment ones, the controls. And you need data from before the Clean Air Act and after the Clean Air Act. So for example, to ask the question, you know, did the Clean Air Act reduce particulate matter, there's evidence that during the 70 to 80 decade there were reductibles. That were 11 to 12 percent higher in non-attainment counties than attainment counties. There were studies done when people focused more on smaller particles, PM10, between 1990 and 2000. There was evidence there of similar...
Lines, there were studies that looked at the impact on ozone. Same sorts of studies showing reductions of about 8% in high ozone days after the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments in non-attainment counties, 8% greater reductions in these high ozone days in non-attainment counties than in attainment counties, and actually under the Knox budget program, something like a 35% reduction in high ozone days in the counties that were part of the Knox budget program, that were treated as it were by the Knox budget So that really is the evidence we have of the Clean Air Act in a causal way reducing air pollution. Once you've established that, one way of tackling the health effects is to say, Okay, I have
Have this causal reduction in ambient concentrations. So if I have some causal studies of the effects of PM on mortality, then I can link it to the Clean Air Act. Now there are also studies that actually look directly at the impact of the Clean Air Act on health. So the study by Deschenne, Greenstone and Shapiro, I should put them in the alphabetical order that we do in economics, what they did in that study was actually to look at the impact of the NOx budget program on summer mortality, okay? 'Cause this was geared at reducing emissions in the summer.
Of about 2,500 deaths per year for the years that that program operated, which was 2003 to 2008, and also a reduction in medical expenditures of about $800 million a year. So here was something where you're directly looking at the impact of this program in areas where it didn't, and directly establishing a link. There's also a recent study that is looking at reductions in PM2.5 between 2004 and 2013. By Nick Kuminoff and co-authors that estimates that a 1 microgram per cubic meter reduction in PM2.5 over that period reduced... Cases of dementia by about 180,000 per year. So, you know, Those are studies where you're directly linking the Clean Air Act with the treated versus controls and finding significant health effects.
So it seems overall like huge improvements in environmental quality, huge improvements in health, but there's some nuance Are there areas where the bill seemed to fall short or didn't live up to its potential for certain reasons? So, I mean, in the paper we do look at regulations to reduce the volatility of gasoline, so reformulated gasoline. Regulations under the 1990 amendments and the point there, and this is largely due to work by Max Alfhammer and Ryan Kellogg, The point there is that there was a lot of flexibility given to refiners, depending on what state they were located in, in reducing what was... Taking out, well, taking things out of gasoline to reduce its volatility. And so, when it was possible to take out something that was cheap to remove...
But didn't necessarily have a big impact on ozone, that's what happened. In California, where the law was very prescriptive and said you've got to reduce benzene and gasoline, the impacts were much greater in terms of reducing ozone. So, I suppose, you know, one could say that Say, Okay, the lesson to be learned there is that sometimes you can give too much freedom in terms of your regulation. You need to think about exactly how people who are regulated will respond to it, and maybe you do have to be a little more prescriptive. I think skeptics of the bill might be interested in the economics. Cost. That this is not a spending program primarily, this is the government telling manufacturers what they can and can't do with their plants, what they can and can't do with their cars. And the criticism of all legislation of that is always, this will cost jobs, this
Will reduce economic output. What do we know about those effects? - There is a very important paper by Michael Greenstone that was published, I believe in 2002. That looked at the impact on manufacturing employment of the Clean Air Act going really from, well, from '72 to '87. So the effect of the '70 Act and the '77 amendments. And what he found was that there was a flow of jobs, well, I shouldn't say a flow of jobs, there was a reduction in the amount of jobs that was being done. In jobs in non-attainment counties. The reduction in manufacturing jobs and actually over that 15-year period it's something like 600,000 jobs, which is a lot of jobs. Now you need to remember that 17 million people were... And manufacturing back in those days. So it's a lot of jobs. It maybe isn't a huge percent, but
It is a situation where we don't really know actually whether those jobs went to the attainment counties. We have some evidence that new plants... In very heavily polluting industries like organic chemicals actually were more likely to locate in attainment counties after the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments given all we said about that earlier about them earlier. So it's possible that some of these jobs went to Attainment counties and people were able to move But you really worry about the impact on earnings especially if people do have to move And change jobs, change industries for example. So a study that came out in I think was in 2013 by Reid Walker actually followed workers in four states. There were some... Workers who were in firms that weren't being regulated under the 1990 amendments and some that were and
That had to actually change firms and especially industries, they suffered he estimated over like a nine-year period, earnings losses that were equal to a year's wages before the regulation took effect. So that's, you know, it's a significant impact. So there, you know, there is evidence that there were impacts on jobs and, in some cases, certainly on worker earnings. It makes you, you know, wonder what could be done or what could have been done to really... You know, ameliorate these effects. You know, at the end of Reed's paper he does say, Well, we do have to compare this, these, well, significant losses on certain groups of people to health benefits. Well, health benefits that they could have enjoyed, but of course the society...
As a whole enjoyed. But there's no question that there certainly were these impacts and impacts of polluting firms moving, not necessarily moving. But locating anew in attainment counties. You know, I think that this does raise a question about uniformity of standards. I think it also goes some way to explaining the continued potency of the framing. Of environmental regulation as a environment versus jobs issue, which like right now, the people who are pushing that are not-- labor, their industry. And as you know, as we in our recent podcast with Rob Meyer discussed like that, you know, the, the, the. That's usually the political framing, but it usually masks a much more nuanced reality. But if you think about, like, the correlation... Between the 1970 and 1977 amendments and the broader...
Industrialization of the Rust Belt during that period, which obviously is multi-causal. And if you think about what someone who was on the sharp side of that, who got laid off, would be willing to blame, probably. Less likely their employer or their union than this totally exogenous thing that came in, that it does go so... Way to explaining why this is still such a potent fear, even though there has been so much effort put in in the 21st century to figuring out ways for the federal government government to craft environmental bills that will also be jobs bills. That that is the kind of implicit conflict between those two really. Can be, you can see why these costs would have been so politically traumatic. Absolutely. I mean the other thing is that at least among studies that we looked at, I mean the flip side of this is to say well what kind of job creation followed as a result of the Clean Air Act amendments.
And in terms of that, to be honest with you, I don't know if there is a huge literature. It's certainly the case. That in regulatory impact analyses that the government does, you know, ex ante the... Emphasis on looking at the job impacts has been huge since 2005 or so. It has shown a light on these issues. But as I say, it also does go both ways, and in terms of trying to say, well, here are the positive jobs. Of impacts, that, it seems to me, should be examined also. - So we've made a huge amount of progress on air pollution. We don't have the smog problems we had in the '70s. You don't have to drive with your headlights on during the day in Pittsburgh. Your car also probably...
When they're on or off. Exactly, yes. A lot fewer choices to make there. But what's left to be done? Like the air quality problem is not 100% solved. It's certainly not solved internationally, but looking at the air quality problem, at what it's accomplished and where things are now, what are some of the big holes that still need to be plugged or places where we could still use a good deal of progress? Well, I mean, if you were asking this question to epidemiologists, and if you look at the, as I say, the recent study by Francesca Domenici and colleagues, the emphasis there is actually on what are the health effects even though many of us are down below an annual average PM2.5 of 12 micrograms per cubic meter. One thing that's really important to know is that you have to be very careful about your health.
Happened actually in the epidemiological literature, which does have to do with the effects in other countries like India and China. Is the notion that the dose-response function between air pollution and risk of death is concave. So you're having actually the largest marginal effects at low levels of pollution, and then these actually sort of taper off, which explains why in spite of huge levels of particulate matter in cities in India, everyone isn't dying of aeroplanes. Pollution. So I think if you were to ask colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health, they would say there are still questions about whether you want to tighten standards below the current standards. I mean, make the the amp.
And standards greater. I mean, in terms of where non-attainment is now, of course there's still considerable non-attainment with regard to ozone, so that's been a very recalcitrant problem. There are certainly... Issues and I would say important environmental justice issues with regard to pollution, which of course have really come to the fore. So you still, you know, especially with regard Pollutants have cancer alley and other broad based concerns of people being exposed to mercury from power plants and so forth. So, there are environmental justice issues, although there has been research.
Into that so Janet Curry, Reed Walker and John Voorhees have looked at actually ambient concentrations gosh I think going back to the year 2000 and looking at how people in different racial and ethnic groups have been exposed over time and how actually the exposure Levels for whites versus non-whites have actually gone down over time, part of which can be attributed to the Clean Air Act. But clearly there are still important environmental justice issues, and especially for what we would call hazardous air pollutants, benzene formaldehyde. And so forth. - Absolutely. Well, thank you so much to Dr. Maureen Cropper for walking us through some of the history of the Clean Air Act and jumping in the time machine with us. - Well, thank you for asking me. - Thank you so much to Dr. Maureen Cropper for being here with us.
Thank you so much to Dara for being on the panel. Our producer is Sophie Lalonde. Libby Nelson is our editorial advisor. Amber Hall is the deputy editorial director for Talk Podcasts, and I am your host, Dylan Matthews. We're gonna take a break from panel. Episodes next week, but do not worry. I will be interviewing author and economist Chris Blattman about his new book, Why We Fight, so stay tuned. The Weeds is part of the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Transcript generated on 2024-05-29.