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Why Our President Pulled the Plug on Ozone Rule

A few months ago when the Obama Administration abruptly scrapped a stronger ozone standard, we were blindsided.
Turns out, we weren’t the only ones.

A few months ago when the Obama Administration abruptly scrapped a stronger ozone standard, we were blindsided.
Turns out, we weren’t the only ones.

This New York Times article gives an illuminating look at the political wrangling behind the scenes of the decision, and indicates that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson herself was blindsided. So much so that she even contemplated resigning.

Administrator Jackson thought the rule was in the bag; instead, just before Labor Day weekend President Obama indicated that it was a no-go. In a statement from the White House at the time, President Obama mentioned the importance of “reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover” and that he himself requested Administrator Jackson to withdraw the rule.

At the time, we knew politics and money played a huge rule in the decision. Now we know just how much.

While clean air advocates were lucky to get one meeting with the White House Office of Budget and Management (which handles regulation), it turns out the business community and their political allies had revolving-door access to White House staff.  Jon Broder writes:

They organized letter-writing campaigns, ran ads in journals seen by Washington policy makers and put the ozone rule at the top of the list of administration environmental initiatives they wanted repealed in the fall. They claimed the rule would cost $90 billion a year — far above E.P.A.’s estimates — and put much of the industrial heartland out of business. Local and state officials complained to Congress and the White House that they lacked the resources to enforce the new rule. Even some Democratic lawmakers warned the White House that the regulation would damage their re-election prospects.

Broder writes that in the face of this war on clean air, there was no one within the White House lobbying for a stronger standard.

But President Obama and his crew know better. The reason why Administrator Jackson threw her weight behind the rule was because of these facts: cutting ozone from the current 2008 standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 60 ppb (as the EPA’s own science and medical advisors suggested) would have saved up to 12,000 lives every year, prevented 58,000 asthma attacks and avoided 21,000 hospital and emergency room visits.

Earthjustice has litigated on this issue for the past few years and halted litigation after Administrator Jackson promised a stronger rule. But after the Labor Day announcement, we filed a new challenge, calling on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the administration’s decision to reject the stronger ozone proposal and order the administration to comply with the law and protect people’s lungs.

This New York Times article shows just how dogged industry and their Congressional allies were; how President Obama, Chief of Staff Bill Daley and OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein bowed to hyperbole and pressure.

Jon Broder reminds us that, in his inaugural address, President Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place.”

Well, President Obama, if not for ozone, then when?

Tags:  Air, Clean Air Act, Ozone
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