Clean Air Act (CAA) and Federal Facilities

On this page


The Clean Air Act (CAA) is the federal law enacted to nationally control air pollution and emissions from stationary and mobile sources. With a few exceptions, federal facilities, like nongovernmental entities, are subject to the same restrictions and requirements of the CAA, and must comply with all federal, state, interstate, local and tribal CAA regulations, administrative authorities and sanctions. Federal entities must also cooperate with all federal, state, local and tribal inspections. 

Key Federal Facility Responsibilities Under the CAA

  • Obtaining necessary operating and emission permits
  • Maintaining emissions within permitted levels
  • Complying with State Implementation Plan requirements
  • Complying with requirements and limitations on mobile sources 
  • Developing risk management plans where required
  • Managing required recordkeeping and reporting
  • Managing facility construction and modification

Basics of the Clean Air Act 

The CAA contains several air pollution control programs and requirements, including:
  • ambient air quality regulation of existing sources through emission limits
  • more stringent control technology and permitting requirements for new sources 
  • limitations on vehicle emissions
  • specific requirements to limit hazardous air pollution
  • stratospheric ozone protection, and
  • visibility impairment.

While the U.S. EPA is the primary regulating authority, like most other federal statutes the CAA is primarily implemented by states, local and tribal authorities which have been delegated implementing and regulatory authority by EPA. 


National Ambient Air Quality Standards (Title I)

The CAA categorizes regions of the U.S. as non-attainment areas if air quality within those areas does not meet required air quality levels set by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). NAAQS consist of standards for six criteria air pollutants:
  • sulfur dioxide
  • nitrogen dioxide
  • carbon monoxide
  • ozone
  • lead and
  • particulate matter

States have the authority to establish emission requirements for facilities in order to achieve attainment of the NAAQS. Federal facilities are subject to these limits, and other requirements set by the state in which they are located.


Site Implementation Plan (SIPs)/permits (Title V)

Under the CAA each state has primary responsibility for assuring the air quality within its geographic area is in compliance with the NAAQS. A state must submit an implementation plan (SIP) which describes how it will do this. The SIP includes a facility permitting program which outlines specific source emission requirements and reductions, as well as recordkeeping, inspections, monitoring, and entry requirements. States may further delegate this authority to local regulatory authorities, and tribes may also qualify as regulatory authorities with similar powers.
Like private entities, federal facilities must obtain the appropriate permit(s) from the regulating authority and pay any associated permit fees; in most situations, this will be from the state or local regulating authority in which the facility is located. Permittees are expected to comply with all emission limits, recordkeeping, monitoring and other requirements contained in their operating permit.

New Source Performance Standard (NSPS)

Like other permitted facilities, federal CAA stationary sources may also be subject to New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), which are nationally uniform emission limitations for new or modified emission sources. The standards include both equipment specifications as well as operation and monitoring requirements. Depending on where your facility is located, and the air quality of the area (NAAQS attainment or non-attainment), your federal facility may be subject to control technology requirements more strict or less strict than facility requirements in other areas. These requirements are incorporated into a facility’s operating permit.

National Emission Standards for hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPS)

All facilities, whether federal or private entities, must comply with applicable National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs). Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) are the almost 200 pollutants designated under the CAA for control/regulation that requires application of Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT). If further emission reduction is deemed necessary, EPA may also apply health based standards in addition to MACT. Some NESHAPs, like the one for asbestos, also have established work practices to minimize the release of asbestos fibers during activities involving the processing, handling and disposal of asbestos and asbestos containing material when a building is being renovated or demolished. The requirements of these national standards must also be incorporated in the facility's title V operating permit.

Acid Rain

The CAA also controls acid depositions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from large utilities or power plants. Reductions are achieved through a market-based trading system which allows certain emission allowances for emitting facilities. Those exceeding the established limits must either reduce their emissions or acquire another facilities emission allowances through purchases or trades.

Stratospheric Ozone Protection

Federal facilities are also subject to requirements which protect the stratospheric ozone layer and other requirements under the Montreal Protocol. These requirements have all but phased out all use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons and hydrocarbons used in many products, especially in refrigeration and cooling. Persons and facilities are required to use substitute, ozone-friendly chemicals, recycle existing CFCs or label remaining products which contain ozone-depleting chemicals.

Mobile Sources

Federal facilities, like private entities, are required to comply with emission standards for mobile sources which include cars, trucks, planes, vessels and off-road engines and vehicles. These standards are administered by EPA on a national level and include emission, fuel and fleet requirements. Since 1998, government agencies have been required to buy “clean” model vehicles. While not part of the CAA, several presidential executive orders also outline requirements for federal fleets and other emission reductions. 

Application to Federal Facilities

Federal agencies and departments must comply with all federal, state, local and tribal CAA requirements, however, they can be exempt from certain obligations under special circumstances. For example, the President may exempt any emission source of a federal agency or department of the Executive Branch from compliance with a requirement of the CAA, if it is determined to be in the “paramount interest” of the United States.
The President also can issue regulations exempting the compliance of weaponry, equipment, aircraft, vehicles, or other classes or categories of property owned by the Armed Forces and the National Guard that are uniquely military in nature. The President shall reconsider the need for such regulations at three-year intervals.
Generally speaking, there are no exemptions from regulatory requirements due to the lack of appropriations. Federal facilities from all three branches of government must comply with the applicable provisions of a valid automobile inspection and maintenance program, although military tactical vehicles are exempt.

EPA Enforcement

The CAA authorizes EPA to issue a unilateral compliance order or negotiate a compliance agreement with noncomplying federal facilities. EPA is also authorized to immediately bring suit or to take other action necessary against persons or facilities causing an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health or the environment. 

Assessment of Penalties against Federal Facilities 

EPA may assess civil administrative penalties of up to $37,500 per day, per violation against federal agencies for noncompliance. The total penalty cannot exceed $295,000 unless EPA and the Department of Justice determine a greater penalty is appropriate. EPA may also issue field citations against federal facilities. A field citation up to $7,500 per day per violation may be assessed in these cases, and are generally issued for minor infractions. (Read more: CAA Stationary Source Civil Penalty Policy, 1991.)
When assessing penalties against federal facilities for noncompliance, EPA follows its guidance Implementation of EPA’s Penalty/Compliance Order Authority against Federal Agencies Under the Clean Air Act (CAA) Penalty assessment amounts have been adjusted for inflation since the 1990 CAA amendments.

Criminal Enforcement

In addition to issuing orders, negotiating compliance agreements, and assessing civil penalties, EPA may seek sanctions against individual employees of federal facilities for criminal violations of the CAA. Fines and punishment, including imprisonment, for several types of criminal violations are specified in the CAA. A person who has been convicted of a criminal offense may also be barred from receiving federal government contracts, loans, and grants. 

State, Local and Tribal Enforcement

States, local and tribal regulatory agencies may also issue compliance orders to noncomplying federal facilities, or require other forms of injunctive relief from federal agencies. Depending on the state and federal circuit court where federal facilities are located, a state may also be able to assess administrative penalties. Under CAA section 301(d), EPA's regulations at 40 CFR Part 49 establish the process for tribes to seek such treatment, which is available for almost all CAA and regulatory programs and functions.

Citizen Enforcement 

Under the CAA, any person may file a civil action against any person, including the United States (EPA) for violations of emission standards or limitations, or violation of an order issued by EPA or a state with respect to such a standard or limitation. Citizens may also file a civil action against the EPA Administrator for failing to perform its duties under the CAA, as well as intervene in an action led by the EPA or a state or local regulatory authority.

EPA CAA Regulations

  • Federal CAA regulations are set forth at 40 CFR Parts 50-99. The CAA statute is found at 42 U.S.C. § 7401 et seq.

Policies and Guidance