President Obama announced today that he will overrule the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) plan to immediately enforce stricter nationwide ozone emission standards in the interest of preserving the nation’s delicate economy. Reviled by industry representatives and called “the most harmful of all the currently anticipated Obama administration regulations” by Rep. Eric Cantor, the EPA’s proposed changes to air quality rules would have lowered the limit on smog-causing chemicals emissions to between 60 and 70 parts of ozone per billion. In the absence of this long-delayed legislation, business in the U.S. will go on as usual under a Bush-era standard of 75 parts of ozone per billion, which is in the violation of the Clean Air Act. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the heads of giant industries applauded the President’s decision, claiming that the new regulation would have cost the country billions of dollars and thousands of lost jobs. Unsurprisingly, environmentalists decried the announcement, calling it an enormous defeat for public health, even though air quality legislation will again be under consideration in 2013. According to EPA scientists, the current standard is dangerously high, and problematic in light of the health problems that extensive exposure to ozone can cause, such as chest pain, respiratory irritation and impaired lung function. The White House’s decision comes on the same day as the release of the Labor Department’s employment report, which found that the economy failed to add new jobs in the month of August. Was the move under consideration by the administration for some time, or is it a weak attempt to repair the government’s image in the wake of faltering job figures? Will President Obama further alienate his environmental base? And will the president be around to oversee the review of similar legislation in 2013 anyway?
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club
Nick Loris, policy analyst, Heritage Foundation; he focuses on energy, environmental and regulatory issues