History of Reducing Air Pollution from Transportation in the United States


Pollution from vehicles, engines, and fuels dramatically reduced while achieving economic growth

Over forty years of clean air policies have improved air quality and improved the health of Americans, and the environment. Since 1970, EPA has set and implemented emissions standards to control pollution from everything from passenger vehicles, heavy duty trucks and buses, construction and farm equipment, locomotive and marine engine and even lawn and garden equipment.  These standards are a critical part of the progress and improved air quality we have achieved despite increased economic activity and more miles traveled on average per person.

This graph shows economic growth has occurred while emissions of air pollutants have decreased.Note: CO2 emissions estimate through 2013 (Source: 2014 US Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report)
Gross Domestic Product: Bureau of Economic Analysis
Vehicle Miles Traveled: Federal Highway Administration
Population: Census Bureau
Energy Consumption: Dept. of Energy, Energy Information Administration
Aggregate Emissions: Air Pollutant Emissions Trends Data

Cleaner Cars, Trucks, and Fuels

Compared to 1970 vehicle models, new cars, SUVs and pickup trucks are roughly 99 percent cleaner for common pollutants (hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particle emissions). New heavy-duty trucks and buses are roughly 99 percent cleaner than 1970 models.  

Cleaner Cars, Trucks, and Fuels

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Lead Removed from Gasoline

Motor vehicles were once the major contributor of lead emissions.  EPA began to phase out lead in gasoline starting in the 1970’s and leaded gasoline was fully prohibited after 1995.  As a result, levels of lead in the air decreased by 94 percent between 1980 and 1999.

EPA standards led to parallel decrease in lead content of gasoline and blood lead level of the average American.Source: USEPA/Environmental Criteria and Assessment Office (1986).Learn more:

Spurring Innovation in Cleaner Cars, Trucks, and Fuels

EPA vehicle emissions standards directly sparked the development and implementation of a range of technologies.The automotive catalytic converter, in particular is considered to be one of the great environmental inventions of all time.   

Emissions standards led to the adoption of many modern automotive technologies—computers, fuel injection, and on-board diagnostics—resulting in cars that are not only much cleaner, but also higher quality, more reliable, and more durable.

The vehicle emissions control industry employs approximately 65,000 Americans with domestic annual sales of $26 billion1.


Contributions to the U.S. Economy

Efforts to reduce air pollution from transportation have proven to be cost effective.  For every one dollar spent on programs to reduce emissions, the American people receive nine dollars of benefits to public health and the environment.

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