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Capitulation on Ozone Much Worse When You Learn the Context

I think this delay of ozone regulations is an even bigger deal if you consider the context. Brad Plumer has that story.

Basically, what happened is that the Bush Administration dragged its feet on new national ozone standards for years. Under the law, there must be a five-year review. EPA’s review of the science in 2006 showed that the current standards, set in 1997, were woefully inadequate. The Bush Administration countered with a new rule in 2008 that was well below the recommendation from EPA scientists.

And then…

Groups such as the American Lung Association quickly filed a lawsuit to stop the Bush rules, which they claimed were too weak and would lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths and cases of respiratory disease. However, when Obama came into office, the new EPA said it basically agreed with the critics and would issue revised rules by August 2010. At that point, the ALA agreed to hold off on its lawsuit. But August 2010 rolled around. Still no rules. Then October. Then November. Still nothing. Then the EPA said it wanted to go back and look at the science again, just to double-check. Sure enough, EPA’s scientific review board said that 60 to 70 parts per billion was the way to go. And EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the final rules would be more or less in line with the science […]

So now, today, the White House announced that it’s not going to have any new rules. On a call with reporters, White House officials argued that it doesn’t make sense to put out new rules in 2011 when there’s going to be another scheduled review of the ozone science in 2013.

This happens to be wrong. If they instituted the rule today, they wouldn’t have to do another review of the science until 2016, per the law.

So consider what we have here. A bunch of enviro groups were ready to sue over ozone standards. The Obama Administration came in and said “don’t worry, we agree with you, we have the authority, we’ll impose the higher standards you want.” Then they waited for two years, and finally, they punted. It’s a total sellout and a de-fanging of the enviro groups who wanted to go to court to get the rules changed.

As a result, the 2008 rules promulgated by the Bush Administration won’t be implemented either; the EPA already directed states not to comply with them. So most states are operating under the objectively worse 1997 standards. And that is expected to continue. So the Obama Administration is allowing, for his entire first term, ozone standards that are worse than George Bush’s.

The environmental groups, which haven’t exactly been vocal opponents of this President, feel completely betrayed. And this is the second betrayal in a week. Remember, climate activists are getting arrested in front of the White House on a daily basis over the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and the State Department just released a whitewash environmental review of the project.

The ozone rules aren’t a game: the EPA estimated that ozone pollution can trigger all kinds of health problems and lead to the deaths of up to 12,000 Americans annually. The reason the regulation seems so expensive is that you’re talking about complying up from 1997 rules. Of course fixing a 14-year gap will be expensive. It will only get more expensive. And people will die as a result of inaction.

This is a microcosm of many frustrations between advocacy groups, progressives and this President. And in this case, there is no Congress on which to blame it.

UPDATE: The American Lung Association will reopen their lawsuit against the government over the ozone standards. Of course, this comes two years too late for those suffering and dying from heightened smog levels.

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David Dayen

David Dayen