Acid Rain and The Clean Air Amendments of 1990: A Stakeholder Analysis


In 2016, the EPA reported that aggregate emissions of six common pollutants dropped 70% between 1970 and 2015 (US EPA). This decrease occurred in large part due to the signing of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. The case of the Clean Air Amendments of 1990 was fueled by rising concern over the sources and effects of acid rain. The issue was defined by clear opposition between the environmentalists who saw a need for pollution and emission regulation and industry who expressed concern over the economic impact of such regulations. This essay will examine the power, attitude, proximity, and interest of each stakeholder with the PAPI stakeholder analysis model. A stakeholder analysis of the Acid Rain Amendments reveals how an opposition between ecological and economic value frameworks of each stakeholder ultimately resulted in a regulation compromise. In addition, a stakeholder analysis of the case exposes the implications and results of including scientific and economic predictions in the discourse of environmental policy change.

The Clean Air Coalition was a primary stakeholder in the Acid Rain dispute because it served as an umbrella organization of environmentalists and academics trying to promote SO4 and NOx policies to combat the acid rain dilemma. The group had moderate power through intense lobbying of members of the House and the Senate, and ultimately saw success through the action of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Senator George Mitchell (Layzer 2016 143). The environmentalist’s attitude remained firm throughout the case. That is, they demanded stringent emissions reductions and clear pollution guidelines and penalties at the cost of the polluters. In terms of proximity, many members and supporters of the pro-regulation coalition were close to the issue as a multitude were from Canada or the North East and the acid rain deposition caused in large part by Midwestern utilities was directly affecting the ecological health of their region. The interest of the Clean Air Coalition was high. Backed by a plethora of emerging scientific evidence, the environmentalists and academics maintained that acid rain caused by industrial emissions of SO4 and NOx was to blame for the degradation of both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, soil, and drinking water supplies and thus sought drastic policy change as a response (Layzer 2016 139).

The second stakeholder in the clean air and acid rain case was the coalition of the utilities, the industrial polluters, the high-sulfur coal industry, and the United Mine Workers that fiercely opposed any type of acid rain controls in fear of the economic impacts of such actions (Layzer 2016 143). Again, this stakeholder sustained moderate political power grounded in its lobbying efforts with anti-regulation groups such as the Senate Energy Committee. This coalition adopted a cornucopian attitude and firmly believed that the environmental benefits of any sort of emissions regulation would not outweigh the economic costs of changing production and operating procedures (Layzer 2016 140). The coalition’s proximity to the origins of the case was high as the majority of the members of the coalition were located in a region with the highest pollution production and were associated with the Midwestern polluters that would bear the largest economic consequences of regulations of SO4 and NOx emissions. In addition, they had a strong economic interest in the case as the ruling was anticipated to drastically affect the fossil fuel reliant economy (Layzer 2016 149).

In conclusion, a stakeholder analysis of the contrast between pro and anti-regulation activists in the case of the Clean Air Amendments of 1990 produces an interesting comparison of scientific and economic motivators of environmental policy change and the power of predictive statistics. Both groups had a similar level of power, proximity, and interest in the debate with the primary difference between the stakeholders arising out of their attitude toward an acceptable solution to the problem. While the environmentalists cited clear scientific evidence found in reports such as the 1981 National Academy of Science studies to qualify their position, the advocates for industry referred to economic forecasts in the event of regulatory changes to justify their views (Layzer 2016 141). The conflicting narratives, statistics, and attitudes arising from each stakeholder in the acid rain case ultimately resulted in a market-based solution that was able to reduce emissions without destroying the economic status quo of the nation. Thus, neither stakeholder emerged on top, but rather engaged in a sustainable development compromise that produced the Clean Air Amendments of 1990.


Layzer, Judith A. 2016. The Environmental Case: Translating Values Into Policy. 4th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press.

US EPA, OAR. 2015. “Overview of the Clean Air Act and Air Pollution.” US EPA. (April 30, 2018).

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