Breath of Clarity

Course Reflection: Effective vs. Ineffective Laws

Effective: Clean Air Act (CAA)

The CAA is the most effective environmental law we studied. I commend Amber for explaining conditions before the CAA was put into place. Also, Steffen made a great point showing a rise in GDP happened at the same time as decreases in common air pollutants. Specifically, from 1970 to 2017, “aggregate national emissions of the six common pollutants alone dropped an average of 73 percent while gross domestic product grew by 324 percent” (Environmental Protection Agency). So, the GDP actually developed even more than the drop in pollution. Still, the health benefits from the CAA are astronomical. For example, in only the year of 1990, the Act prevented 205,000 early deaths. In 2020, the number is predicted to grow to over 230,000 early deaths. The aspect of the CAA that makes it mandatory to implement new technologies to reduce pollution has led to an amazingly positive impact on cutting down greenhouse gas emissions. State and local pre-construction permitting has been a great way of applying CAA requirements to power plants and factory facilities (Environmental Protection Agency). The strategy ensures new buildings are created efficiently from the beginning so that less structures need attention later on.

I also appreciate the EPA’s way of articulating how damage from air pollution impacts the ecosystem and ultimately brings a detrimental effect to aquatic animal populations. Insofar as air pollution persists, the soil nutrients deteriorate, there is accumulation of toxics in the food chain which hurts plants and long-term forest health (Environmental Protection Agency). Although this is very logical, it is crucial to display the sequence as an element of environmental activist communication materials designed for the public. Further, the widespread human reverence for water and marine wildlife can be leveraged by showing the impact air pollution has on the world down under. For example, nitrogen enrichment of coastal estuaries causes oxygen depletion and results in harm to fish and other aquatic animal populations (Environmental Protection Agency). Communication strategy that displays gases in a concrete fashion through analogies or some other technique can help the impact of air pollution and gains from the CAA be less abstract and even more respected. From there, our nation can expand upon the benefits already achieved by the act.

Not Effective: Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)

Over the course of our analysis of specific Superfund sites, there was definitely a consensus that there are too many locations still included on the National Priorities List (NPL). 53 million Americans live within three miles of a Superfund Site (Mugler 2020). Further, the class highlighted the EPA’s 2017 Task Force Report flaws including themes of cutting corners, lack of incentive for the potentially responsible party (PRP) to quickly address its damages, too much bureaucracy and a lack of funds. The major problem with CERCLA is the cleanup process can be so slow even when a project has already been started. This is particularly true in relativity as we compare neighboring sites to one another and see such a discrepancy in site attention. Another issue we learned is often a site is cleaned up to the law’s standards and still is not in good enough condition for reuse and development. At the same time, there are arguments saying cleanups take too long which results in too many half-finished projects. Either way, the administrative aspect of the EPA’s dealings with CERCLA is extremely weak and has allowed for the build-up of over 1,000 NPL sites. While the Task Force Report had some amazing ideas, implementing it is very difficult without establishing a reason for urgency that actually instigates action.

Since our previous discussion focused so much on the Task Force Report, I surfed the web to explore whether experts perceive CERCLA as effective. Initially, I found a critic back in 1995 saying “even the Clinton administration admits the program does not work” (Shanahan 1995). Then, I dove deeper into seeing specific aspects that are ineffective and how they can be changed. I commend the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) for encouraging companies to choose settlement when faced with being a PRP because they have the opportunity to be protected from contribution claims (DeMeo 2012). I saw applied success from the amendment’s specific tenant when I researched Honeywell for the environmental management systems discussion. Companies who can afford to settle often do, and it can substantially help efficiency in cleaning up the sites. Further, now that legal issues between PRPs have been resolved in the courts, “as litigants understand more clearly how the statute’s liability and contribution provisions apply, litigation costs should decrease. When parties enter into out-of-court settlements with the government, it is possible to avoid litigation costs altogether” (DeMeo 2012). Therefore, as time goes on, we are going to see more money spent on site cleanups rather than lawsuits. As knowledge about the environmental law system begins to be indispensable in an upcoming era of profitable sustainable business, corporations are hopefully going to learn addressing its damages early on is smart. Since the law is so ineffective at using the EPA funds to get cleanups done, I see incentivizing early settlement as the most effective solution.


DeMeo, Karen. 2012. “Is CERCLA Working? An Analysis of the Settlement and Contribution Provisions.” St. John’s Law Review. Accessed June 2 2020.

Environmental Protection Agency. n.d. “Progress Cleaning the Air and Improving People’s Health.” Accessed June 2, 2020.

Environmental Protection Agency. n.d. “Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act 1990-2020, the Second Prospective Study.” Accessed June 2 2020.

Mugler, Larry. 2020. “CERCLA.” University of Denver. Accessed June 2 2020.

Shanahan, John. 1995. “How to Rescue Superfund: Bringing Common Sense to the Process.” The Heritage Foundation. Accessed June 2 2020.