Government Regulations

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For example, the U.S. Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 was a law enacted to restore topsoil and vegetation to areas damaged by coal surface mining. The Clean Air Act is a U.S. law that addresses another environmental issue related to fossil fuel energy: air pollution. The law was instituted to improve air quality in the United States and to minimize the impact of harmful pollutants, including those emitted by electric power plants and automobiles. First passed as the Air Pollution Control Act in 1955, the law was reinstituted in 1970 as the Clean Air Act with the essential features that it has today. It was revised in 1977, 1990, and 1997. Under the act the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits on the amount of emissions allowable anywhere in the United States from pollutants considered to be primary causes of ozone depletion and harm to the environment. These pollutants include sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulates, and volatile organic compounds. The law gives each state the authority to develop its own guidelines regarding how that state will clean up polluted areas and improve air quality, basing such regulations on the needs of that particular state's industries, geography, population patterns, and so on.

The administration of President George W. Bush, however, has been criticized for waiving one of the requirements of the Clean Air Act of 1970. Known as the new source review, it mandated inspections of new or remodeled coal-burning power plants to ensure that they were utilizing the cleanest-burning technologies possible to limit emission of sulfur dioxide. This requirement did not apply to older, unremodeled plants, which were already a subject of criticism by many who believed that this measure only encouraged the power industry to keep old, heavily polluting plants in operation. When President George W. Bush waived the new source review requirement for remodeled plants altogether in 2003, environmentalists viewed this decision as one that would further increase pollution from coal.

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