Clean Air Act becomes law - HISTORY
Month Day
December 17

Clean Air Act becomes law

On December 17, 1963, one of the first major pieces of environmental legislation in the United States becomes law. The Clean Air Act empowers federal and state agencies to research and regulate air pollution, marking a major expansion of government efforts to fight back against the damage being done to the climate.

A 1955 law, the Air Pollution Control Act, had allocated $15 million to the study of air pollution across the country. As the federal government and the states conducted this research, it became clear that further legislation would be needed. After passing through Congress relatively swiftly, a stronger act was signed into law on December 17, 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been in power for less than a month following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The landmark act and its subsequent amendments—updates were passed in 1967, 1970, 1977 and 1990—comprise some of the most comprehensive air-quality legislation in the world. Shortly after its creation in 1970, the EPA began using its powers under the CAA to set quality standards for areas affected by air pollution, and it has subsequently been invoked to ban specific harmful chemicals and tackle specific environmental problems such as acid rain or the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which directly contributed to the “hole” in the Ozone Layer. Though there is a very long way to go, national emissions dropped 63% between 1980 and 2015, despite overall economic growth and an increase in the number of miles driven over that time, thanks largely to the provisions of the Clean Air Act and its successors.

READ MORE: Climate Change History

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.


Kim Jong Il, leader of North Korea, dies

On December 17, 2011, Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s enigmatic, reclusive dictator, dies of a heart attack while reportedly traveling on a train in his country. Kim, who assumed leadership of North Korea upon the death of his father in 1994, ruled the Communist nation with an iron more

First airplane flies

Near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright make the first successful flight in history of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. Orville piloted the gasoline-powered, propeller-driven biplane, which stayed aloft for 12 seconds and covered 120 feet on its more

Circus catches fire in Brazil

On December 17, 1961, a fire at a circus in Brazil kills more than 300 people and severely burns hundreds more. The cause of the fire was never conclusively determined but it may have been the result of sparks from a train passing nearby. Christmas week was just beginning, the more