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With Ozone decision, President Obama spits on his own record and on the law …

September 2nd, 2011 · No Comments

This morning, as roughly 160 dedicated and knowledgeable Americans put their freedom at risk to call attention to the horrific risks created by Tar Sands exploitation, President Obama announced a kowtowing to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and disinformation about the benefits created through sensible regulation with a postponement of Ozone regulations.

Sadly, rather than emphasizing the undisputed fact that environmental regulation has proven — time and time again — to be a net benefit, President Obama kowtowed to those who seek consideration of just costs without considering benefits as he echoed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Representative Cantor as he wrote of the “importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty”.

The President’s decision flies in the face of — spits on — this Administration’s record, the law, and every single independent review of the costs and benefits of environmental regulation.

As to the Obama Administration record, the President wrote:

Over the last two and half years, my administration, under the leadership of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, has taken some of the strongest actions since the enactment of the Clean Air Act four decades ago to protect our environment and the health of our families from air pollution. From reducing mercury and other toxic air pollution from outdated power plants to doubling the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks, the historic steps we’ve taken will save tens of thousands of lives each year, remove over a billion tons of pollution from our air, and produce hundreds of billions of dollars in benefits for the American people.

Yes, there have been tremendous successes to point to after the disastrous eight years of the Cheney-Bush anything-goes era. There are reasons to be proud in many Administration actions that will improve health, reduce reliance on dangerous fossil fuels, improve our balance of payments, and improve American competitiveness.

Moving forward with too-long delayed Ozone regulation would build on this and help set the stage for a healthier, more secure, more competitive and more prosperous nation.

Instead, there seems to be a focus on the ‘costs’ of executing clean-up activities rather than the benefits that accrue to all of us (and all the U.S.) through holding polluters accountable for the damages they foist (those pesky ‘externalities’) on all of us. (And, an ignoring of the fact that these regulations would lead to increased economic activity and increased employment, helping drive deployment of capital that is currently ‘sitting on the sidelines’.)

As for the law, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson commented last month that George Bush’s ozone standards were “not legally defensible.”

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.

[I]t would have been illegal to set the standard outside the range that a board of expert scientists said was necessary to protect human health. It also would have led to more costs for cities and states, which wouldn’t have known which standard to shoot for, she said.”The legal defensibility of the 2008 decision posed major challenges for the federal government given the strength of the scientific record at that time,” as well as the letter of the Clean Air Act and the recommendations of scientific advisers. “I decided that reconsideration was the appropriate path based on concerns that the 2008 standards were not legally defensible,” she added.

In other words, the rules put in place by the Bush Administration ignored the appropriate science and are likely simply illegal — even those are the standing regulations. These are the regulations that President Obama has now decided to leave standing.

Reactions to the President’s announcement

NRDC President Frances Beinecke, Obama Administration Delays Life-Saving Smog Standards:

Today the Obama Administration made a decision that will endanger the health of tens of thousands of Americans. Its choice to delay stronger standards for smog lets polluters off the hook and leaves Americans with sicker family members and higher medical costs.

Smog standards exist because smog is dangerous to human health. It causes respiratory illness, cardiac disease, and premature death. Though we have made progress in reducing this harmful pollution in American skies, we haven’t licked the problem yet.

The stronger smog standards would have saved up to 4,300 lives and avoid as many as 2,200 heart attacks every year. They would have made breathing easier for the 24 million Americans living with asthma. And they also would have created up to $37 billion in health benefits annually.

Representative Ed Markey, Disappointing Ozone Decision Puts Pressure on Obama On Other Clear Air, Water Rules

“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.

Friends of the Earth, Obama Trashes 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.”

Lisa Heinzerling, Ozone Madness

The President’s announcement is terribly bad news, and terribly bad policy, on several scores.
1. Law: The reason the President gave for asking EPA to withdraw its standard is an unlawful reason. … the fact is that the President has rejected a fully developed NAAQS on the basis of costs. It is hard for me to see how that does not present a legal problem. … in any event, the President does not have the authority to undo clear directives from Congress.
2. Science: The Clean Air Act, as conclusively interpreted by the Supreme Court, requires EPA to set the NAAQS based on the scientific evidence of harms to public health posed by the air pollutant in question. One of the decisions most decried by critics of the Bush-era EPA was its NAAQS for ozone, set in 2006. In issuing its standard, the Bush-era EPA departed from the advice of its scientific advisors for the first time and set a less stringent standard than the scientific advisors had recommended. It is hard to see how President Obama’s decision today reflects an attitude toward science that is any more respectful than the attitude the Bush administration displayed in its 2006 ozone standard. What is more, it seems that EPA will now be required to defend that Bush-era standard in court, which means that the agency may well make arguments about the shape and scope of EPA discretion under the NAAQS program that the agency will come to regret when and if it attempts, some time in the future, to set an adequately protective standard in the face of inevitable industry opposition.
3. Economics: Weirdly, even though President Obama stated that economic concerns were his reason for asking EPA to withdraw the ozone standard, shortly before this announcement was made, a White House blog post extolled the economic virtues of the Clean Air Act. This is a statute that has returned over 30 times the amount in benefits that it has imposed in costs. It is one of the most successful pieces of public health legislation ever. And the White House seems to know it. Stranger still, then, that President Obama used economics as the cited reason for asking EPA to take back the standard.
4. Transparency: President Obama has made open government one of the central themes of his administration. … there exists a full package from EPA containing the final rule and the explanation for it. The least the White House can do at this point is to release that package. Let the public know …. Let states and local governments take that information and decide …. Let citizens decide what actions to take … As President Obama explained when he issued a memorandum directing agencies to adopt a presumption of disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act: “Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve.” It is hard to see a public-regarding reason for not disclosing the EPA’s explanation of the science on ozone and the public’s health.

Richard Graves, President Obama Abandons Clean Air: Picks Polluters Over Sick and Dying American Kids.

In a sickening (literally) move, President Obama has told the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon their plans to protect kids from toxic air pollution, siding with big polluters like Exxon, Koch Industries, and their sock-puppet the US Chamber of Commerce over the health and safety of America’s youth …

Instead, the President sided with the US Chamber of Commerce, echoing the very language they used in their letter scrambling to find justifications for why these polluting corporations wanted to put off essential protections for the lives and health of kids and seniors exposed to toxic air pollutants. The Chamber of Commerce, reveling in the power they are exercising in a post-Citizens United world of unlimited corporate cash in US elections, said:

U.S. Chamber Praises White House Decision to Withdraw Potentially Disastrous Ozone Standards: Donohue Calls Move a ‘Big First Step in What Needs to be a Broader Regulatory Reform Effort’. Source

This is after over a thousand people have been arrested in front of the White House, desperately trying to get President Obama to halt the Keystone XL pipeline that the nation’s top climate scientist said would be ‘game over’ for the climate, if built. A White House conspicuously without solar panels, that the Administration had promised to install by this spring. Another in a string of promises broken and priorities downgraded on the environmental front. As the protestors outside the White House have been singing, “Pick a side Obama”, and it appears that he has.

Stephen Lacy and Joe Romm, President Obama Backs Down on Ozone Standards, Climate Progress

The administration’s fecklessness is no doubt based on some crass political (mis)calculation. But in fact the standard would not have any noticeable negative impact on the economy and, if anything, would have driven investment and innovation even in the short term. The biggest uncertainty businesses have now is “what the heck will Obama do next?” since the President appears to have no coherent and consistent philosophy guiding his economic and environmental decisions.

And as for how this plays out with the voters, it’s one more move that disempowers a core constituency. It also misses a chance to win over the biggest block of independent voters, those who want to preserve clean air and clean water for their kids. As a May Pew poll found, 71% of Americans say “This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.”

Some material to consider:

CAP did an analysis of the economic impacts of those areas put in smog/ozone non-attainment in 1997, and found more jobs created in those cities than nationwide average.

Directly on health benefits — rather than economic activity — NDRC discussion

The EPA estimates that the smog standards will save as much as $37 billion per year in health benefits at a cost of roughly $20 billion.But that isn’t why the agency proposed the new standard. In fact, it is against the law for the agency to consider costs when setting public health standards.

Related, GOP’s Dirty Air Hit List Sacrifices Americans’ Health, NRDC

Some of GESN discussions re the need for fully burdened cost and benefit analysis:

* Inhofe and Republicans are Right: Analysis of Climate Bills is Flawed

* Acting on Climate = Benefits, not costs

* All costs, no benefits …

And, well, a very sad example of the Administration understating the value (significantly) of action: Valuing demand destruction … critical to understanding value of clean energy action

UPDATE: Well, the American Lung Association’s is sending its lawyers into action … Note, by the way, I am not focusing on the gleeful industry / Republican reactions to the announcement.

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.”


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Tags: environmental · pollution · President Barack Obama