Obama, Ozone, and Political Horse-Trading
President Obama has just announced a controversial decision(because we’re all paying close attention over the Labor Day weekend, of course) not to raise the ozone standards for air pollution–in spite of pressure from environmentalists and his own head of EPA, Lisa Jackson. He is responding, instead, to requests from House Speaker John Boehner, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; opposition to the regulation was focused on the expense to businesses of meeting it, which they claimed was somewhere in the range of $20 to $90 billion annually.
I’m not going to jump into an Obama Bash here. Maybe it’s the sunny skies, but I’m remaining deliberately optimistic. Perhaps the president is getting ready to do some political horse-trading. By being responsive to business concerns about what opponents claim would have been the most expensive regulation to come out of E.P.A. by far, he can’t be called a Democrat who supports any and all regulations. The thinking might go: You can have those ozone regulations–which are set to be revisited in 2013, anyway–but I want those new mercury regulations for coal-fired power plants. We can afford those.
The flip side of my optimistic argument is that the White House is buying into the “regulations cost jobs” trope; many politicians now link “job-killing” to every use of the word “regulation”, regardless of the inaccuracy. So far, there hasn’t been any proof that the implementation of ozone standards would have cost jobs. In fact, it may well have added employment, and driven engineering innovation. Any way you look at it, this is a huge win for polluters.
Horse-trading or caving: we’ll see a clear trend over the next few months, as other pollution regulations come up for discussion. The ozone decision bodes ill for those who are opposing the upcoming Keystone pipeline, despite an impassioned letter from the governor of Nebraska. If the president is accepting the “jobs versus environmental protection” framework, he will be forced to choose jobs, and get that pipeline built. That jobs v. environment framework is not, and has never been, accurate. It is a spin imposed by corporate polluters and their lobbyists, one that is all too easily understood and accepted by voters–and it is gaining traction. Enviros have not done a good enough job explaining why and how regulations actually create jobs.
One thing is clear, regardless of the smog. Now, more than at any other time since President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act into law, we have to keep the pressure up on Washington to remind everyone that clean air is a priority. Like they say in Texas, Ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya. We have to support the president in doing the right thing–and pressure him relentlessly when we think he’s doing the wrong thing.
Join Moms Clean Air Force to send a strong message: Air pollution isn’t just dirty. It’s toxic. Let Washington know that we want regulations that protect the health of our children.