The 1970 U.S. Clean Air Act

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Soichiro Honda at the CVCC introduction held at the Akasaka Prince Hotel in Tokyo on October 12, 1972.

Japan was only just entering the age of motorization in the mid-1960s, when it began experiencing the problem of smog. Then, in July 1966, the country’s Ministry of Transport introduced a standard regarding toxic gases emitted by automobiles, making it mandatory to reduce CO emissions to a maximum of 3 percent for automobiles (gasoline cars, except for mini cars) produced after September of that year. In August 1967, the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control was implemented, and in 1968, the Air Pollution Control Act took effect.

Air pollution was not simply a problem that could be controlled by laws alone, however. On May 22, 1970, a physician’s co-op in the Tokyo district of Bunkyo-ku, brought the problem to the nation’s attention. Based on the results of an exhaustive examination of residents there, the doctors announced that “lead levels in the blood of residents living near the Ushigome-Yanagi-cho intersection in Tokyo’s Shinjuku-ku, is unusually high,” raising speculation that the lead with which gasoline was formulated might be the culprit. Then in June, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) issued a notice regarding the prevention of lead pollution from automobiles, presenting guidelines with regard to the amount of lead that could be added to gasoline. Additional proof of the dangers was soon to come. On July 18 of that year, the occurrence of photochemical smog victims on the grounds of Rissho High School in Suginami-ku, Tokyo, became a social issue. The incident intensified the public’s demand that emissions be reduced and regulated. It was a sequence of events that led to the July 1971 establishment of the Environment Agency, a government bureau set up to safeguard the health of Japan’s population and resources.

The U.S. government was active in the crusade as far back as 1963, when it established the Clean Air Act, to which the Automobile Emission Control Act was added 1965. In 1966, the California State Government established its Air Resources Board, which began restricting emissions even further. As a means of promoting public awareness and disseminating information about its activities, the federal government published its official Air Pollution Control Regulations in the March 20, 1966, issue of the Federal Register.

The U.S. was determined to promote environmental policies against pollution. In 1970, the job of environmental administration was transferred to the newly established Environmental Protection Agency (later upgraded to a Department, now the EPA) from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). Concurrently, Senator Edwin Muskie submitted his clean-air bill---known as the Muskie Bill---to Congress. It was a major revision of the existing Clean Air Act, and its standards were more stringent than ever before. It stipulated that automobiles made in 1975 and thereafter should emit one-tenth the level of CO (carbon monoxide) and HC (hydrocarbons) compared to current models, while models 1976 and later should also emit one-tenth the level of NOx (nitrogen oxides). It was going to be challenge. In fact, the world’s automakers maintained that it would be almost impossible to meet such strict standards. Undaunted by the industry’s complaints, Congress passed the 1970 Clean Air Act on December 31, 1970.
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