What the Clean Air Act Has in Common With Preventative Medicine

The Clean Air Act, which has been taking a beating lately, falls under the EPA's jurisdiction, but in some ways, it's really a law about public health. Its goal is not to keep the air clean solely for the sake of atmospheric purity: polluted air exacerbates conditions like bronchitis, asthma, and heart disease. One of the law's earliest iterations, in 1963, established an air pollution program under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Public Health Service.

The Clean Air Act works on the same principle that visiting a primary care doctor is meant to: it helps prevent people from getting sick to begin with. Much of the law's recent trouble has grown from its new application to carbon pollution, as opposed to more obviously dangerous pollutants, like lead and sulfur dioxide. And the connection between soot and poor health is clearer than the connection between carbon pollution and health problems.

But it's going to get up to 101 degrees today in places on the East Coast. Maybe higher. As climate change takes hold, heat waves like this are going to become more common. And people already suffering from conditions like heart disease are more vulnerable to heat sickness and heat stroke, just as they're vulnerable to soot. When the EPA regulates carbon under the Clean Air Act, it's not just fighting climate change for the sake of a cooler planet; it's protecting the health of people, too.