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Coal and Air Quality: The Basics of Air Pollution Control and Emissions Trading

James A. Holtkamp, Proceedings of 47th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (2001)

The Clean Air Act1 and the various state and local air pollution control programs have been largely successful in achieving significant reductions in ambient air pollution in the United States. There is much that still needs to be accomplished, however, including addressing regional ozone transport, lingering acid rain deposition in the northeast, visibility degradation in national parks and wilderness areas, unacceptable ambient air pollution levels in populated areas, emissions of a bewildering variety of toxic air pollutants, and increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere.

Future reductions in air pollution will come at higher costs, as the incremental cost of squeezing additional reductions increases.2 The traditional command-and-control regulatory [21-5] system may not be adequate to ensure that the maximum reductions are achieved without impairing the American economic base.

The 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act3 embodied a major alternative to the traditional regulatory philosophy by establishing a national sulfur dioxide allocation and trading system for utility power plants.4 Although local emissions trades had occurred in large cities on a somewhat sporadic basis in the years preceding the 1990 amendments, the Acid Rain Program prompted a dramatic growth in the use of emissions trading to achieve reductions in pollution. The use