February 26, 2021

Obama Administration Abandons Plan to Tighten Air-Quality Rules

The president rejected a proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency that would have significantly reduced emissions of smog-causing chemicals, saying that it would impose too severe a burden on industry and local governments at a time of economic distress.

Business groups and Republicans in Congress had complained that meeting the new standard, which governs emissions of so-called ground-level ozone, would cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The White House announcement came barely an hour after another weak jobs report from the Labor Department and in the midst of an intensifying political debate over the impact of federal regulations on job creation that is already a major focus of the presidential campaign.

The president is planning a major address next week on new measures to stimulate employment. Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail have harshly criticized a number of the administration’s environmental and health regulations, which they say are depressing hiring and forcing the export of jobs.

The E.P.A., following the recommendation of its scientific advisers, had proposed lowering the so-called ozone standard of 75 parts per billion, set at the end of the Bush administration, to a stricter standard of 60 to 70 parts per billion. The change would have thrown hundreds of American counties out of compliance with the Clean Air Act and required a major enforcement effort by state and local officials, as well as new emissions controls at industries across the country.

The administration will try to follow the more lenient Bush administration standard set in 2008 until a scheduled reconsideration of acceptable pollution limits in 2013. Environmental advocates vowed on Friday to challenge that standard in court, saying it is too weak to protect public health adequately.

Ozone, when combined with other compounds to form smog, contributes to a variety of ailments, including heart problems, asthma and other lung disorders.

Lisa P. Jackson, the E.P.A. administrator, has pushed hard for a tougher ozone standard, telling associates that it was one of the most important regulatory initiatives she would handle during her tenure. But she found herself on the losing end of a fight with top White House economic and political advisers, who were persuaded by industry arguments that the 2008 ozone rule was due to be reviewed in two years anyway and who were concerned about the impact on state, local and tribal governments that would bear much of the burden of compliance.

The impact would have been felt heavily in a band of Midwest and Great Plains states that are not themselves major sources of ozone pollution and that will be critical 2012 electoral battlegrounds.

In a statement, the president reiterated his commitment to environmental concerns, but added: “At the same time, I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover. With that in mind, and after careful consideration, I have requested that Administrator Jackson withdraw the draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards at this time.”

In words of reassurance directed at Ms. Jackson and the agency she heads, the president said that his commitment to the work of the agency was “unwavering.”

“And my administration will continue to vigorously oppose efforts to weaken E.P.A.’s authority under the Clean Air Act or dismantle the progress we have made,” he said.

Ms. Jackson accepted the White House decision with a terse statement: “We will revisit the ozone standard, in compliance with the Clean Air Act.”

She pointed with pride to the administration’s record of establishing a range of other air quality safeguards for power plants, manufacturing facilities and vehicles that will also help to reduce ozone pollution across the country.

Ms. Jackson had made clear her intention to follow her scientific advisers and set a new standard within the more restrictive range by the end of this year. She has told associates that her success in addressing this problem would be a reflection of her ability to perform her job. The agency sent the now-rejected standards to the White House in July with the expectation that they would be issued by Aug. 31.

Leslie Kaufman contributed reporting from New York.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8c33e342cac7ec27961c155e91cdbc93

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