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The Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act

Permits and Enforcement


One of the major initiatives Congress added to the Clean Air Act in 1990 is an operating permit program for larger industrial and commercial sources that release pollutants into the air. Operating permits include information on which pollutants are being released, how much may be released, and what kinds of steps the source's owner or operator is required to take to reduce the pollution. Permits must include plans to measure and report the air pollution emitted. States and tribes issue operating permits. If those governments do not do a satisfactory job of carrying out the Clean Air Act permitting requirements, EPA can take over issuing permits.

Operating permits are especially useful for businesses covered by more than one part of the Clean Air Act and additional state or local requirements, since information about all of a source's air pollution is in one place. The permit program simplifies and clarifies businesses' obligations for cleaning up air pollution and can reduce paperwork. For instance, an electric power plant may be covered by the acid rain, toxic air pollutant, and smog (ground-level ozone) sections of the Clean Air Act. The detailed information required by those separate sections is consolidated into one place in an operating permit.

Thousands of operating permits that have been issued across the United States are available to the public. Contact your state or regional air pollution control agency or EPA for information on access to those documents.

Businesses seeking permits have to pay permit fees, much like car owners paying for car registrations. These fees pay for the air pollution control activities related to operating permits.

For more information, visit www.epa.gov/air/oaqps/permits.


The Clean Air Act gives EPA important enforcement powers. In the past, it was difficult for EPA to penalize a company for violating the Clean Air Act-the Agency had to go to court for even minor violations. The 1990 Amendments strengthened EPA's power to enforce the Act, increasing the range of civil and criminal sanctions available. In general, when EPA finds that a violation has occurred, the agency can issue an order requiring the violator to comply, issue an administrative penalty order (use EPA administrative authority to force payment of a penalty), or bring a civil judicial action (sue the violator in court).

For more information, visit www.epa.gov/enforcement.


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