By Jody Brumage
Since the 1950s, Congress has debated and periodically enacted legislation to limit the causes and impact of air pollution in the United States. The first successful bill to address this issue was the Air Pollution Control Act, passed in 1955. A subsequent bill, the Clean Air Act of 1963, expanded the government’s efforts to control emissions and provided funding for the U.S. Public Health Service to conduct research. Four years later in 1967, Congress again debated a bill to further expand the government’s control over emissions, and the effort was led by two members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation: Senator Jennings Randolph and Representative Harley O. Staggers, Sr.
The Senate Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator Jennings Randolph drafted a bill which provided increased funding for research to find more cost-effective means of cleaning emissions. This was criticized by some as a favor to industries such as coal which dominated the economy of the chairman’s home state. Senator Randolph defended his provision, stating that he sought to provide the “potential for advancing the quality of the nation’s air without inordinately disturbing economic balances. Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine was also a major force behind the bill. During the committee debates, Senator Muskie forged a compromise over the question of nationwide federal standards. In working to obtain support for the bill from senators who opposed federal regulation, Senator Muskie advocated for states being given the right to develop their own standards, but providing the Secretary of Housing, Education, and Welfare the power to intervene and enforce standards in states which failed to do so adequately. The bill was passed by the Senate by a vote of 88 to 12 on July 18, 1967.