White House backs Big Oil over breathing

Updated
This July 10 2007 file photo shows smog covering midtown Manhattan in New York.  The EPA on Friday, April 17, 2009, declared that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases sent off by cars and many industrial plants "endanger public health and welfare," setting the stage for regulating them under federal clean air laws.
This July 10 2007 file photo shows smog covering midtown Manhattan in New York. The EPA on Friday, April 17, 2009, declared that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases sent off by cars and many industrial plants "endanger public health and welfare," setting the stage for regulating them under federal clean air laws.
Adam Rountree / AP

Setting the date for next week’s presidential jobs speech became quite the exercise earlier this week, and a number of folks made a big kerfuffle about the President capitulating to House Speaker John Boehner. It could be argued that he simply threw down a gauntlet that wasn’t his to throw, and that the real capitulation was saved for later in the week.

President Obama today asked the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw their long-delayed plans to tighten regulations on ground-level ozonethe stuff sometimes generalized as smog.

The current rules have been deemed by EPA director Lisa Jackson to be “legally indefensible.” The President’s defense? Those rules due to be reconsidered in two years (when he may or may not still be President, by the way):

“Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013…Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered.”

That quote comes from the Washington Post’s report today, which called the President’s slam on the proverbial brakes a “win for the business community.” The president of the American Petroleum Institute was certainly pleased:

“The president’s decision is good news for the economy and Americans looking for work,” API President and CEO Jack Gerard said in a statement. “EPA’s proposal would have prevented the very job creation that President Obama has identified as his top priority.”

It’s long been the argument from industry leaders (and Republicans, natch), that regulations, by their very nature, block job creation (despite evidence to the contrary).  Per TPM, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently called this particular regulation “possibly the most harmful of all the currently anticipated Obama Administration regulations.”

The counter to that came from those like the American Lung Association, who argued that the legal limit for ground-level ozone should be between 60 and 70 parts per billion (PPB), exactly what the EPA was set to do. They also argued that the the limit set by the EPA in 2008 (75 PPB, lowered from an astounding 84 PPB) under President George W. Bush violated the standards of the Clean Air Act.

The President’s decision today ended that argument. The limit will likely stay at 75 PPB until at least 2013, when the restrictions are due to be revisited. That sure seems like bad news for folks like me, who enjoy breathing and have particular trouble, at times, doing it.

I have asthma. It isn’t nearly as debilitating as it was when I was younger, suffering attacks before I could finish a mile, or simply not being able to breathe very well in certain environments. But even then I knew there were legions of folks who had it a lot worse than I did, and still do.

The fact that this current policy seems so faulty and the President decided to undermine his own agency in order to continue it leads to the inevitable question: Why? Republicans aren’t impressed. Environmental activists are enraged. In an era in which presidential candidates have made the very elimination of the EPA a mainstream talking point, the President passed up a real opportunity to demonstrate how important the EPA is to every American voter. Depending upon what those voters decide in 2012, he may have lost a chance to make an impact on this issue at all.

White House backs Big Oil over breathing

Updated