What the Clean Air Act did for Los Angeles—and the country

50 years ago the landmark law followed the science to regulate air pollution. It became a model for the world.

In 1954, members of the Highland Park Optimist Club wore gas masks to call attention to air pollution. When L.A. suffered its first severe smog episode in 1943, some thought it was a Japanese chemical attack.
Allan Grant, The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Longtime residents of Los Angeles remember the days when the mountains around the city were all but invisible. Today they’re a central part of its craggy beauty.

It’s not just Southern California. Thanks to the Clean Air Act of 1970, air across the United States has gotten 77 percent cleaner—even as the population, the economy, and the number of cars on the road have grown. That improvement has lengthened millions of lives, saved trillions of dollars, and made the country a global air pollution success story.

The landmark law was a bipartisan achievement, winning unanimous Senate approval and passing the House of Representatives with just one “no” vote.

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