Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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In post-World War II America rapid industrial expansion and urbanization created air pollution, including smoke, airborne gasses, and "smog," and also created a nationwide concern with environmental issues. In 1955 the U.S. Congress passed the Air Pollution Control Act, which identified air pollution as a national crisis and outlined research and other methods needed to improve the environment. Subsequently, a 1963 Clean Air Act passed and was amended in 1965, 1966, and 1967. The 1967 amendment divided the nation into Air Quality Control Regions (AQCRs) for monitoring the air. The new legislation also set national emissions standards, mandated states' responsibilities in the fight against air pollution, and recommended technology needed to battle unhealthy environments. A more ambitious law came in the Clean Air Act of 1970, which set new, higher air-quality standards, strictly regulated emissions from new facilities, monitored hazardous emissions, and set emissions standards for motor vehicles. More importantly, it allowed citizens to take legal action against violators of the standards. In 1977 federal legislation extended the deadline for meeting the tougher guidelines and addressed the destruction of stratospheric ozone. It also placed each existing air quality region into one of three classes, based on levels of pollution.

Because of their state's windy nature and low population density, many Oklahomans did not view air pollution as a high priority, except in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. In actuality, Oklahoma had a high natural pollution load caused by dust. In 1963 the Oklahoma Department of Health became the official agency dealing with the federal government's air pollution programs. In 1967 the state legislature followed the national lead and developed the Oklahoma Clean Air Act. With this, the Department of Health became the administering agency, with a seven-member Air Pollution Council appointed by the governor. The council's mandate included setting regulations, holding hearings, and investigating complaints associated with controlling and prohibiting air pollution. By law the council must include a representative from industry in general and specific representatives from the transportation, petroleum, and agriculture industries, as well as a professional engineer (experienced in matters of air pollution), a faculty member from Oklahoma University or Oklahoma State University, and a town or city government official. In 1969, to encourage private manufacturers to participate and cooperate in the Clean Air Act, the state legislature offered tax credits, which had to be approved by the Air Pollution Council. In 1971 the state legislature amended the Clean Air Act, giving the State Commissioner of Health the power to take immediate action if a source of pollution was determined to endanger the health of residents, enforcing the inspection of motor vehicles to comply with emission standards, and compelling cooperation among state agencies to assist in the fight against pollution. In 1975 the council was redesignated the Air Quality Council, and the director became the Chief of Air Quality Service.

In 1992 Oklahoma's Forty-third Legislature revamped the Clean Air Act to conform to the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1990, which had more stringent standards for automobile emissions and for reducing sulphur dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons in the air. As the Air Quality Council's representation formula was criticized for seeming to favor industry, the 1992 act added two positions, one from the general public and one from the electric utilities industry. The act also created a Compliance Advisory Panel to give small businesses technical and environmental assistance in preventing air pollution. Besides adopting a stronger stance on pollution, the 1992 amendment provided stiffer pollution-fighting controls, permitting regulations, and penalties for noncomplying companies and individuals. In 1993 the state legislature created the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), with the air quality programs designated under DEQ control.

After implementation of the 1967 Clean Air Act, the state experienced varying success in reducing pollution. Between 1970 and 1974 Chief of Air Quality Service Jack Gallion, reported a 49 percent reduction in the amount of particulate matter in Oklahoma County's air. He also claimed that between 1970 and 1976 Oklahoma industry spent $191 million on pollution control devices and changes in equipment. Oklahoma City's air problem has been with carbon monoxide, differing from Tulsa's main worry, ozone. By the end of the twentieth century Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Lawton continually struggled to meet or exceed the federal Environmental Protection Agency's air quality standards. Another concern for Oklahoma was ozone that drifted northward from Texas's pollution centers. Annually the Air Quality Council prints an air quality report.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 26 February 1967, 25 April 1976, and 15 May 1995. Oklahoma Session Laws, 1967 (St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1967). Oklahoma Session Laws, 1992 (St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1992).

Larry O'Dell

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