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Managing Air Quality - Setting Air Quality Goals

Air quality goal setting is the process by which a government establishes objectives for its air quality management system.

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The setting of goals represents the starting point for an air quality management system in many countries. These may include broad qualitative goals, such as to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of air pollution.

Effective air quality management systems also include specific goals or standards that are quantified, measurable and have associated timelines for achievement. A transparent process including consultation with and review by the public, including the regulated community, facilitates understanding, acceptance and implementation of goals and standards.

In the United States, the air quality goals are informed by the science of air quality management. This science continually evolves over time.  In order to stay abreast of scientific and technical advances, periodic reviews of goals are important to enhance the continual improvement in air quality.

Laws and Regulations

A government typically enacts a law establishing broad goals for air quality. The law may also outline the roles of implementing agencies and other entities involved in achieving these goals. The law may authorize an implementing agency to develop regulations with detailed requirements.

The U.S. Congress enacts laws such as the Clean Air Act, which authorizes EPA to develop and issue detailed air quality regulations to implement the Clean Air Act.

Resources on environmental laws and on how laws and regulations are set in the United States

Resources for the Clean Air Act

Types of Goals and Key Standards for Air Pollution in the United States

Goals and standards related to air quality management can take different forms.  Examples include:

  • an acceptable level of a pollutant in the air;
  • a limit on the amount of a pollutant emitted by a source (e.g., industrial facility or an emission point in the facility); and
  • a limit on the amount of a pollutant in a fuel (e.g., gasoline) or in a product (e.g., paint, consumer products).

The United States controls air pollutants through two main programs: (1) the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) program, and (2) the Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP) program.

Resources for information on national standards related to air quality in the United States

Science and Research

Scientific research provides air quality managers with essential understanding of how pollutants are emitted, transported and transformed in the air, and their effects on human health and the environment. A solid foundation of science is necessary to inform policies and strategies.

Resources for information on EPA’s research in support of air quality goals