Environmental policy in the United States has primarily taken the form of strict regulations that rely on health-based quality standards regarding one specific environmental problem. In turn, these standards are enforced through stiff penalties and noncompliance fees. The focus of these policies has primarily been on removing existing contaminants, rather than pollution prevention.
A significant challenge in air quality management to be faced by the United States will be contamination as a result of continuing heavy increases in motor vehicle use. Since 1970, the annual distance traveled by the average driver in the U.S. increased by 51 percent and motor vehicle traffic doubled, more than offsetting any improvements in air quality achieved through reducing vehicle emissions. In the United States, problems of increased motor vehicle use are particularly vexing because of a pattern of low-density land use that necessitates motor vehicle use. In addition, road travel in the U.S. is such that public mass transportation is less efficient for many people. The heavy use of motor vehicles in the United States also is encouraged by a very low cost to their use. Unlike most other industrialized nations, individual motorists in the U.S. bear very little of the real costs of road transportation (such as road construction, maintenance, parking, as well as gasoline, the real cost of which is now lower than in 1950, as well as the environmental costs). Air pollutants emissions levels in the United States are expected to rise again because of this continuing increase in motor vehicle use, despite the continued implementation of a very strict regiment of emissions controls.
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