Can We Breathe Easier?

Author: Sylvia Kniest

Time: 2 periods
Copy the article on the Clean Air Act from the website listed below.
Materials: Articles on the Clean Air Act plus sheets of butcher paper and markers


Students will begin the lesson by reviewing the concept of federalism and debating the pros and cons of a federal government. In order to apply their knowledge they will analyze the Clean Air Act to ascertain the role of the states and federal government in enforcing it.

Students will be able to:
1. List the exclusive and shared powers of the state and national governments.
2. State the specific role of the national and state governments in enforcing environmental legislation.

National Standards For Civics and Government
III-B. How is the national government organized and what does it do?
III-C. How are state and local governments organized and what do they do?

Teacher Background
Teacher may want to review the concept of federalism with the students before introducing this lesson.

Resource Websites

http://www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/peg_caa/pegcaa02.html#topic2a: article on Clean Air Act



Day 1
1. Have students work in small groups to create a Venn diagram on federalism.
a) Give each group a sheet of butcher paper and marker.
b) Students will brainstorm to list: National Powers, Shared Powers, and State Powers on the Venn diagram. For each section of the diagram students will brainstorm and list all of the powers that they can think of. They should also include at least one specific example for each category. For example: the Iraq War could be an example listed in the National Power section.
c) Have a class discussion where the groups share their Venn diagrams.
d) Have the class discuss the pros and cons of a Federal system of government.
List the students’ responses on the board.

2. Have students debate the following question by having them voice their opinion through a continuum:
The national government is too big and has too much control over the states.
Students who agree should go to one side of the room- those who disagree will go to the other side of the room and those who are undecided go to the middle. Ask students to explain their opinions. The objective is to try and sway those students in the middle to join their side.

Day 2
1. Hand out the article; “The Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act” and tell students they are going to look at an example of a law that is enacted by both the Federal and State governments.

2. Students should do the following task as they read:
a) Create a “T” chart with two headings: National Government and State Government.
b) As you read, write the specific duty described in the article below the appropriate heading.
c) Below the chart write four questions that would most likely appear on a permit.

Have a class discussion where students share the information on their charts.

1. Discuss: Why does the national government have the power to set the air quality standards in all of the states? What powers do the states have in setting their own air quality standards?

2. What are the pros and cons of having the national government determining the regulations for states? For example, air and water quality and educational standards (No Child Left Behind Act).

Embedded Assessment

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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