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Environmentalists, Public Health Advocates Stunned as Obama Folds, Pulls New Ozone Standard

Smog pollution

Smokestacks, photo by otodo, Creative Commons

As Jon Walker posted earlier, President Obama today directed EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to pull EPA’s proposed updates to the national ozone (smog) standards, which were scheduled to be adopted in the next few weeks.  Intense lobbying by polluting industries, championed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, combined with relentless GOP attacks on EPA regulations to produce yet another White House fold.  And the Chamber is doing a victory dance.

Environmental and public health advocates were apparently blindsided by Obama’s decision.  Most fully expected EPA to go forward with the new rules.  Their reactions following the White House announcement were both angry and stunned.   Many are shocked the President would pull a critical public health rule that would have saved thousands of lives and billions of dollars in public health care costs and created jobs in mitigation and pollution control industries or spurred efficiency and alternative energy investments.

Equally offensive, as Walker noted, the President’s statement appeared to adopt GOP framing, particularly one that Eric Cantor had used in singling out the proposed Ozone rule as a “job killing” regulation that should be stopped. From Cantor’s target list:

Ozone Rule (Winter): This effective ban or restriction on construction and industrial growth for much of America is possibly the most harmful of all the currently anticipated Obama Administration regulations. Consequences would reach far across the U.S. economy, resulting in an estimated cost of $1 trillion or more over a decade and millions of jobs. Unlike her predecessors, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is pushing for a premature readjustment of the current ozone standards, dramatically increasing the number of “nonattainment” areas. The new readjustment rule is expected early this fall and I expect the Energy and Commerce Committee to act swiftly to prevent its implementation, in order to protect American jobs.

A further reaction is that Obama has clearly forfeited any remaining claim to environmental leadership.   Indeed, there’s a widely held feeling that the President is now showing “deep contempt” for environmental concerns, given this announcement and his Administration’s clear bias towards approving the tar sands/Keystone XL Pipeline project.

Here are typical reactions from those concerned about this environmental and public health setback:

From the American Lung Association, President Obama’s Failure to Update Ozone Standards Outrageous

“For two years the Administration dragged its feet by delaying its decision, unnecessarily putting lives at risk. Its final decision not to enact a more protective ozone health standard is jeopardizing the health of millions of Americans, which is inexcusable,” said Charles D. Connor, President and CEO of the American Lung Association.

“The American Lung Association now intends to revive its participation in litigation with the Administration, which was suspended following numerous assurances that the Administration was going to complete this reconsideration and obey the law. We had gone to court because the Bush Administration failed to follow the law and set a protective health standard.”

From Conressman Ed Markey:

“I am disappointed that the President chose to further delay important clean air protections that would have helped to prevent respiratory and cardiac disease in thousands of Americans.

“While I agree with the President that using up-to-date science to inform policy decisions is important, I disagree that the 2006 pollution science that the Bush Administration ignored should be ignored once again in favor of additional delays in issuing rules to reduce the smog-producing ozone that threatens public health.

“This administration previously has taken positive steps towards cleaning up our air by issuing interstate air pollution transport and tailpipe emissions rules.

“In light of today’s decision, I urge the President to direct EPA to move forward aggressively and use its full authority under the Clean Air Act to address the other clean air challenges facing the nation  – from carbon pollution that is warming our planet, to mercury and other toxic air pollutants that are making the air unsafe to breathe.”

From Friends of the Earth:  Obama smashes smog protections

President Obama decided today to trash fundamental protections for Americans’ health. His decision will mean more children suffering from asthma and more permanent lung damage for adults. It is unacceptable.

“Adding insult to injury, President Obama claimed that asking corporations to act responsibly is too much of a ‘burden’ for them, ignoring the fact that studies show responsible environmental protections spur investment in clean technology and create jobs.

“The president’s claim that he has shown an ‘unwavering’ commitment to public health and the environment is absurd. In truth, when considering the extent of the transformation that’s needed, his administration’s record on environmental issues has bordered on the pathetic.

“Americans are crying out for leadership, instead we have a president taking his cues from Eric Cantor. To call this discouraging is an understatement.”

From Quit Coal, Corporate Polluters Need Not Worry, Obama’s Doing Their Dirty Work

From Get Energy Smart Now, With ozone decision, President Obama spits on his own record and the law

From Grist, by giving in to Big Oil, Obama seals his political fate

From It’s Getting Hot in Here, President Obama abandons clean air; picks polluters over sick and dying American kids

Lisa Heinzerling, Georgetown Law Faculty Blog, Ozone Madness

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

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