Friday, September 2, 2011

Obama Announces Halt to New Ozone Standards

Manu Raju of Politico tweets:
In move that will infuriate enviros, Obama calls on EPA to withdraw draft ozone standards to reduce "regulatory uncertainty"
The move comes just a month and a half after EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson called the current Bush-era smog rules legally indefensible:
The standards chosen by the George W. Bush administration to protect people from smog probably wouldn't hold up in court, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says in a new letter to a key congressional ally, giving the best indication yet that the agency is planning to set stricter pollution limits this summer. 

Jackson is close to deciding whether to change the national ambient air quality standard for ground-level ozone, the main component of smog. After a series of delays, the agency sent a final rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget on Monday.
EPA was originally scheduled to finalize the rules last summer, but it asked a federal court for three extensions, fueling speculation that the agency might be harboring doubts about rules that critics say will hurt the economy.
And the kicker:
Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said the new letter sends a strong message about where the agency is heading.

"Unless there is some eleventh-hour political meddling by the White House, it seems clear that ... Jackson intends to follow the advice of the agency's science advisers," he said in an email.
As Raju predicted, the move is already enraging environmental groups. The League of Conservation Voters has issued a brief statement:
The Obama administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe. This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health.
It seems clear that this move is driven by administration concerns over the struggling economy, but the President is likely to face more backlash, particularly considering Jackson's heated rhetoric from earlier this summer. Environmental groups are sure to claim that "the law is the law" and that the new rules cannot be set aside for economic or, perhaps more appropriately, political concerns. Jackson's comments certainly set the stage for lawsuits challenging the current rules.

More from Politico here.

Update: CPRBlog has added its disapproval.

Update II: The New York Times' Paul Krugman weighs in with a Keynesian explanation of why the new regs may have helped the economy:
And now you can see why tighter ozone regulation would actually have created jobs: it would have forced firms to spend on upgrading or replacing equipment, helping to boost demand. Yes, it would have cost money — but that’s the point! And with corporations sitting on lots of idle cash, the money spent would not, to any significant extent, come at the expense of other investment. 
More broadly, if you’re going to do environmental investments — things that are worth doing even in flush times — it’s hard to think of a better time to do them than when the resources needed to make those investments would otherwise have been idle.
This is an argument that seems to get lost in the discussion on environmental regulations. Too often, regulations are characterized as artificial increases in costs that will merely be passed directly on to consumers. But regulations such as the new ozone standards often result in new hires and spending on the development of new technology, which itself can often result in long-term savings. Add to that the savings to "public health," and it's easy to see why many studies have suggested that Clean Air Act regulations were a net benefit to the U.S. economy over the long-term. Krugman's argument is that, even in the short-term, given our current economic situation, the costs of such regulations are probably overstated.

Update III: The always great Kate Sheppard over at Mother Jones provides the numbers:
According to the American Lung Association, the weaker standard means that as many as 186 million Americans are currently breathing in unhealthy levels of smog. The EPA's own figures are even more shocking. If the Obama administration set the lower standard of 60 parts per billion, it would prevent 4,000 to 12,000 premature deaths a year by 2020. Even the higher standard of 70 parts per billion would save between 1,500 and 4,300 lives per year. Improved air quality would bring down the number of deaths and hospitalizations every year due to asthma, bronchitis, and other heart and lung conditions. 

The EPA also noted that while compliance with the new rule would cost polluters between $19 billion and $90 billion a year by 2020, the benefits to human health will be worth between $13 billion and $100 billion every year.
She also confirms that the Obama administration will face at least one suit over the move:
The American Lung Association filed suit against the EPA following the weak Bush standards, but dropped it after the Obama administration said it was going to reconsider it. The group issued a statement on Friday signaling that it will revive the suit now that the Obama administration has signaled that it is not going to improve the standard, which is a violation of the Clean Air Act, the group says. 

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