Why air emissions regulations rose to the top in North America

What’s up with increasing air emissions regulations? Trends in North America topped our 2020 charts – and will likely bring more changes for companies.

Nathaniel Gajasa

by Nathaniel Gajasa

Despite its overwhelming number of COVID-19-related concerns, the 2020 health crisis didn’t undermine increasing focus on air emissions. Even with the pandemic top of mind, regulators continued to develop new and more protective standards in this area.

Globally, we tracked over 1,700 regulatory developments in air emissions last year from the proposal to adoption stage – with North America topping the regional chart at 628. Today, companies operating in this region must align with many new requirements in air emissions management. And they face even more potential changes due to a certain new administration.

What’s changing for air emissions in North America?

In North America, air emission management framed the second-most common type of regulatory developments. (With the first being, understandably, the in-flood of COVID-19-related OHS measures and mandates.) There are a couple of likely explanations for this trend.

One reason is ongoing activity in the United States to implement air-permitting programs at the state level, under their own versions of the Act (CAA). Initially enacted in 1963 and since amended, the CAA regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. One of the act’s aims was to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and another to direct US states to develop their own implementation plans to achieve them. Several states also imposed or proposed new air emission limits for pollutants, which, in some cases, were not yet covered by federal regulations. A common thread throughout North America was the adoption or proposal of new or more stringent requirements on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

The Biden effect on air emissions regulations

Moving forward, companies in the US can also expect increased activity at the federal level. Most notably through the country’s recent re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement, via an Executive Order signed by President Biden on his first day in office. As such, US-operating companies will once again need to account for the agreement’s goal of reducing global carbon emissions by way of voluntary commitments.

Also, as part of the new Biden Administration’s focus on eliminating greenhouse gases, the country is poised to move forward on the US President’s proposed objectives, including to:

  • make US electricity production carbon-free by 2035,
  • achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 (net-zero requires that any carbon emissions are balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere),
  • upgrade 4 million buildings to make them more energy efficient, and
  • invest in electric vehicle manufacturing and charging points and give consumers financial incentives to trade up to cleaner cars.


Air emission regulations: Standing strong in a shifting landscape

Regardless of the increased attention on OHS-related regulations, air emission management remained a priority in North America last year – and will continue to be so in the future. Companies operating in this region will need to keep a close eye on the inevitable continued increase in – and evolution of – these developments.

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