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Breathing Easier Thanks To The Clear Air Act

Okay, take a deep breath. Now think about what it would be like to do that without the Clean Air Act of 1963 and its successor in 1970.

Rep. Paul G. Rogers, who served Florida for 20 years in the House of Representatives, was a co-sponsor of the Clean Air Act Extension of 1970, one of the most important pieces of U.S. legislation in the 20th century, and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment from 1971-1979. He also sponsored the American Cancer Act of 1971.

Rogers and others created history with the 1970 legislation, which charged the Environmental Protection Agency with developing and enforcing regulations protecting the general public from potentially hazardous contaminants in the air. The law also created specific standards for controlling auto emissions. Since inception, the law has resulted in a significant drop in emissions of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, toxic lead and other harmful substances.

After his career in Congress, Rogers worked as an attorney and continued to concentrate on public health issues, He served as chairman of the Lasker Foundation. He is currently chairman of the Paul G. Rogers Society for Global Health Research, a part of Research!America, a not for profit health education and advocacy alliance.

How much opposition was there to the act?

There was great opposition, mainly from the automobile industry. In fact, they had auto dealers from almost every city around the country, they had them come to Washington. They had the union people come, they told them the act would ruin the industry, so they wouldn’t have any jobs. So there was a significant effort to stop the law or to weaken it.

Given the opposition, there must have been a lot of co-sponsors needed to pass something like that?

My committee was pretty united on this. We had examples of how people had been affected by this in the nation in various areas – there were many examples of this. It was interesting because we happened to have a pretty choking smog in the summer of 1970 here in Washington that kind of drove it home in Congress.

Forty years later, do you still feel that sense of accomplishment?

I was very pleased to be a part of the environmental effort. People often don’t realize that environmental laws are truly health laws. I think members of the Congress began to understand that.

The law had tough auto emission standards that were later weakened in the 1977 Act. Was that necessary?

I thought they were fairly reasonable and we came out in agreement in the House and Senate conferences. I think it was a reasonable approach. In many countries they’ve exceeded those standards. Japan for one. So it could be done. Our industry said we could do it on a single car but to apply it fleet-wide it would very difficult.

Did that auto industry victory wind up backfiring on the automakers?

I think it did. We looked at Japan in cleaning up the auto industry. They were far ahead of us and they’ve done pretty well in selling their cars over the years

If you were back on Capitol Hill, what legislative efforts would you be pushing?

I am concerned about global warming. It is a big problem. Many people don’t want to recognize it but I think even that is beginning to change. You have scientists on both sides of the issue -- that is always true -- but generally the scientific community says we need to do something about it. I held hearings on the ozone back then. One of the issues then was the damage from hairspray.

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Green is fashionable with Corporate America right now. Is it pretty much a sincere effort?

I think it is. The fact they are beginning to have more of a realization of the importance of the green movement and what good comes from it and the improvement of our environment. We’ve made many steps forward in Corporate America

Is there one major misconception, one important example of faulty thinking involved in how we deal with climate change?

We are beginning to change. The buildup of information is coming at a fairly significant rate and I believe we are seeing more and more of the public involved, knowing also that this warming business also affects out health. That knowledge is developing fairly rapidly now so we’ll start taking steps to do something significant.

How important is it to engage the developing nations in the debate and search for solutions? How important is it to have China on board?

I think it is very important. We going to find that the impact of China, of India, the big population countries will have a tremendous impact on the environment. We need to convince them that they will share the problems and thus need to share in the solutions to those problems.