Obama Halts New Smog Standards
President Obama on Friday delayed new air quality standards for smog, bowing to pressure from industry groups and Republicans who want to curtail the regulatory actions of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Obama requested that EPA administrator Lisa Jackson withdraw the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which would have limited ground-level ozone to between 60 and 70 parts per billion.
In 2008, the Bush administration adopted ozone standards of 75 parts per billion – outside the range recommended by the EPA’s science advisors. As a result, those standards were challenged in lawsuits by more than a dozen states, the American Lung Association, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Obama spun the decision to keep the current standard as an effort to reduce regulatory burdens on industry.
“Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013,” he said. “Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered.”
The stronger smog standards would have saved up to 4,300 lives and avoid as many as 2,200 heart attacks every year, according to estimates. They also would have created up to $37 billion in health benefits annually.
“The new ozone standard is unlikely to have much negative economic impact, but will save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in lower health care costs,” the Center for American Progress, said in a release. “Moreover, continuing to delay these standards that companies have already been planning for creates even more uncertainty during a volatile time. In reality, it is regulatory certainty that businesses need now to help create jobs.”
NRDC President Francis Beinecke said in a blog post the group will resume its lawsuit against the EPA challenging the current standard. She writes:
[H]aving cleaner air to breathe is not a burden for the American people.
Nor is complying with safeguards an undue burden for business. Businesses would have incurred costs to reduce their smog pollution, just as they have to pay to haul away garbage, make sure transit fleets don’t endanger drivers, and make sure their food products don’t sicken people. These are some of the costs of doing business.
In the case of ozone standards, the costs wouldn’t have kicked in for several years, long after the current economic downturn. And keep in mind that in 2010, the top 10 utilities had a combined $28.4 billion in profits and $7.5 billion in cash balances. They can afford to embrace innovative pollution controls and protect their customers’ health.
Meanwhile clean air investments yield enormous returns. The smog standards would generate $37 billion in value for a cost of about $20 billion by 2020. Take together, Clean Air Act standards generated approximately $1.3 trillion in public health and environmental benefits in 2010 alone for a cost of $50 billion. That’s a value worth more than 9 percent of GDP for a cost of only .4 percent of GDP. The ratio of benefits to costs is more than 26 to 1.
Americans know it’s cheaper to stay healthy than it is to pay for asthma attacks, missed work days, emergency room visits, and hospital stays. That’s why a June poll for the American Lung Association of likely 2012 voters from all parties found that 75 percent support the EPA’s effort to set stronger smog standards and 66 percent believe that EPA scientists–not Congress-should establish clean air standards.
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