Obama admin eyes major new pollution limits

In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, smoke rises in this time exposure image from the stacks of a coal-fired power plant in La Cygne, Kan. (Photo by Charlie Riedel/AP)
In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, smoke rises in this time exposure image from the stacks of a coal-fired power plant in La Cygne, Kan.
Either no one has told President Obama how lame-duck presidents are supposed to act or he really doesn't care.
Two weeks ago, the president announced the framework of a breakthrough climate deal with China, and even at the time, there was a realization that additional environmental policies were on the way, including an Environmental Protection Agency policy to limit smog-causing ozone.
That policy is now done and ready for its unveiling. The New York Times reports:

The sweeping regulation, which would aim at smog from power plants and factories across the country, particularly in the Midwest, would be the latest in a series of Environmental Protection Agency controls on air pollution that wafts from smokestacks and tailpipes. Such regulations, released under the authority of the Clean Air Act, have become a hallmark of President Obama's administration. Environmentalists and public health advocates have praised the E.P.A. rules as a powerful environmental legacy. Republicans, manufacturers and the fossil fuel industry have sharply criticized them as an example of costly government overreach.

The existing smog standard is 75 parts per billion, a limit many consider too high given that ozone is pollutant linked to asthma and heart disease. Indeed, that standard was set by the Bush/Cheney administration, which ignored the recommendations of its own EPA scientific advisory panel at the time.
The Obama administration is targeting a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion -- which is still higher than what many environmentalists want -- though as Rebecca Leber recently reported, Republicans are already committed to blocking the pollution limits. Indeed, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has a proposal that would prevent the EPA from creating new standards until there's 85% compliance with the old, inadequate standards.
I can appreciate why discussions about "parts per billion" seem a little dry, but don't let the jargon get in the way -- for those who breathe, this is an important environmental policy.
More from the NYT report:

Public health groups have lobbied the government for years to rein in ozone emissions and said the regulation was one of the most important health decisions Mr. Obama could make in his second term. "Ozone is the most pervasive and widespread pollutant in the country," said Paul Billings, a senior vice president of the American Lung Association. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said, "Ozone is not only killing people, but causing tens of millions of people to get sick every day."

It's worth noting that Republican arguments aren't necessarily wrong; the limits on ozone pollution do come with a cost. How much? Brad Plumer took a closer look:

The EPA estimates that compliance will cost about $17 billion (in today's dollars) in 2025. Industry groups are warning of doomsday. Other experts are more cautious. In July, the National Association of Manufacturers warned that a stricter rule would cost $3.4 trillion in economic activity and 2.9 million jobs by 2040. "This would be the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public," the group said. A follow-up report by the Congressional Research Service, however, noted that this industry estimate relied on unrealistic assumptions. For one, the industry estimate was assuming an even stricter standard than the EPA has actually proposed. And it didn't take into account the fact that new technologies to reduce ozone-forming emissions are coming online in the oil and gas sector.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration may be moving forward on one of its major environmental goals, but another aspect of the president's environmental agenda is getting a second look.

The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear a major challenge to the limits set by the Obama administration on emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. It is the latest effort by industry groups to roll back regulations that would reduce emissions like mercury, soot, sulfur, smog and carbon dioxide. The case also threatens to undermine one of the administration's most significant victories and chip away at President Obama's legacy. John Walke, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the regulation of mercury emissions that are at issue in the new case "the greatest clean air achievement of the Obama administration's first term."

Whether it remains that way is now in the hands of nine high-court justices.