What is an Emissions Law?

Felicia Dye

In the environmental sense, emissions are pollutants that are released into the atmosphere. Across the world, climate change and the negative effects of pollution on health have increased the focus on emissions. As a result, many countries have enacted emissions laws. An emissions law is a standard that is usually intended to regulate pollution.

Car emissions contribute to air pollution.
Car emissions contribute to air pollution.

Both businesses and individuals can be affected by these pollution regulations. Emissions law tends to focus on pollutants such as sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides. These laws are generally made and enforced by government institutions.

U.S. states require vehicle inspections that test the types and amounts of gases released in the exhaust of a car or truck.
U.S. states require vehicle inspections that test the types and amounts of gases released in the exhaust of a car or truck.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the institution that bears most of this responsibility. The EPA has a body of law known as the Clean Air Act which dates back to 1970. It is this body of legislation that contains the bulk of emissions law for the US.

The Clean Air Act regulates pollution generated by vehicles and stationary sources, such as factories, power plants, and utility providers. According to emissions law, certain vehicles, such as cars and off-road equipment, must meet certain fuel consumption standards and have certain pollution control features. Stationary sources also must have equipment that controls their emissions, and they must meet specific limitations.

Since air pollution has long been a major problem in California, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) was also formed. Although it is not a part of the EPA, CARB is a governmental agency. It is also actively studying and implementing emissions standards for the state of California.

CARB is empowered by the fact that California has one of the world’s largest automotive markets. If CARB makes an emissions law and an automaker’s vehicle does not meet the standard, then that automaker can be denied the right to sell its product in that market. Even worse for that automaker is the fact that some other states have chosen to adhere to CARB standards. This means the available market for the non-compliant vehicle will be even smaller.

Individuals and businesses in the European Union (EU) must comply with Union regulations as well their national emissions law. This means that in Europe, although some emissions laws are the same, others vary from country to country. Emissions law in the EU sets standards for almost all vehicles, including trains, barges, and construction equipment. There are also standards for stationary sources. The names of the institutions responsible for regulation and enforcement at the national level vary.

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