President Barack Obama, citing the struggling economy, asked the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday to withdraw an air-quality rule that Republicans and business groups said would cost millions of jobs.
The surprise move—coming on the same day as a dismal unemployment report—reflected the energy industry’s importance as a rare bright spot in adding U.S. jobs. The tighter standards for smog-forming ozone could have forced states and cities to limit some oil-and-gas projects.
In making the move, the White House clearly judged that it had more to lose from industry and Republican criticism than it had to gain from environmental groups who support the rule.
The implementation of the ozone rule was difficult to defend. Bush had just lowered permissible ozone levels only a year before. Implementing this was going to blow a hole in the economy of up to $90 billion (assuming the standards can be met, which is not clear). Of course, the EPA estimated it would save 12,000 lives a year (perhaps; it’s disputed). But, even assuming they’re right, that’s $7.5 million per life saved. $7.5 million should save a lot more than one life.
Naturally, the Left is furious. I’ve heard more than one liberal say this is the last straw with Obama. Of course, they’ve been saying that since January 21 of 2009, so take that with some salt.
I think what’s happened here is that Obama got caught between panders. He tried to pander to the environmentalists by rushing in ozone standards too quickly and without proper study. I have no idea if he ever intended to enforce them, but he’s at the point now where he can’t. The economy is too weak and resistance is too strong. So he panders back by delaying them.
Result? The Right is pissed that he tried to put the standards in place and the Left is pissed because he didn’t. Well played.
I suspect, however, that we haven’t heard the end of this. As usual, the Left is caterwauling because they’re not getting right now what they’re likely to get later. The Clean Air Act is up for renewal in 2013. And there’s an election before then. It’s likely that ozone standards will be tightened at some point. Hopefully, they’ll wait for the technology to catch up to the point where the economic impact is minimal.