President Obama announced today that he is tossing aside a long-anticipated plan to strengthen air quality standards for ozone. In this disappointing move, the Administration claims that rejection of this human health safeguard is an effort to minimize “regulatory costs” and “promote economic growth” according to a letter from the White House to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The President is essentially telling us that pollution creates jobs.
EPA officially proposed the stronger, more protective ozone rule in January 2010–shortly after the Bush Administration updated the standards–because the EPA’s independent science advisory committee said the Bush standards were not sufficient to protect public health. Since that time the rule underwent continual delays, worrying many that politics would get in the way of protecting public health. EPA estimated that the ozone rule could have prevented as many as 12,000 premature deaths by 2020, and we are left wondering whether the President’s plan to bolster the economy by allowing ongoing pollution at current levels will apply to other teetering safeguards as well.
As the President made his announcement today, 39 metropolitan regions throughout the United States were under ozone alerts or ozone “action days” because their pollution levels reached unhealthy levels. Six of these alerts are in Tennessee, including one in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which also reaches into North Carolina. Georgia and Kentucky are other states in this region suffering from excessive ozone exposure today.
While children miss school days because of asthma attacks and parents miss work because of their own symptoms such as respiratory infections or aggravation of chronic lung disease, President Obama is justifying his decision to abandon an important human health standard as part of a crusade to “underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty.” Such soothing words for the child who is struggling to breath!
Unfortunately, the ozone rule is not the only rule that has languished while the President withers under political pressure. Critical safeguards such as those related to coal ash storage and climate change, are also still pending as the President prostrates himself to the coal-powered electric industry and their followers in Congress. By abandoning this important ozone rule the Administration has fallen for industry’s regulatory train wreck argument.
The question is whether the loss of new ozone protections is a sign of things to come or whether there is a silver lining here to salvage other critical environmental rules. If he is now supporting the train wreck argument, then hopefully, the President feels that today’s decision has sufficiently cleared the tracks so that EPA’s other critical environmental protection proposals will have a freer passage. But for an administration that won on the premise of HOPE that would translate to action, it is disconcerting that “hope,” in its most basic definition, seems to be all we have left to rely on rather than concrete protections for our families’ health.