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Obama Administration Delays Life-Saving Smog Standards

Frances Beinecke

Posted September 2, 2011

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Today the Obama Administration made a decision that will endanger the health of tens of thousands of Americans. Its choice to delay stronger standards for smog lets polluters off the hook and leaves Americans with sicker family members and higher medical costs.

Smog standards exist because smog is dangerous to human health. It causes respiratory illness, cardiac disease, and premature death. Though we have made progress in reducing this harmful pollution in American skies, we haven’t licked the problem yet.

The stronger smog standards would have saved up to 4,300 lives and avoid as many as 2,200 heart attacks every year. They would have made breathing easier for the 24 million Americans living with asthma. And they also would have created up to $37 billion in health benefits annually.

By failing to deliver these health and economic benefits to the American people, President Obama has come down on the side of polluters and those extreme forces who deny the value of government safeguards.

In his statement today, President Obama referred to a need to reduce “regulatory burdens.” But having 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.

Strengthening the standards for smog isn't just popular. It's required by law.

In 2008, the Bush EPA adopted ozone standards outside the range unanimously recommended by the EPA's science advisors. As a result, those standards were challenged by more than a dozen states, the American Lung Association, NRDC, and others for being unlawfully harmful to public health.

When the Bush EPA ignored its own science advisors on another air quality standard, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned those standards. Lisa Jackson, the current EPA administrator, wanted to avoid a similar legal fate on ozone. She concluded that the Bush-era ozone rules are "not defensible" under the Clean Air Act, and she committed to creating a legal standard that protects Americans' health.

Today’s decision means the Obama administration now accepts the Bush-era standard. It also means NRDC will resume our lawsuit challenging it.

The Obama administration has been on the right side of the law and the science on other strong clean air protection—including the one limiting mercury pollution—which are now under attack in Congress. The President needs now to mount a forceful defense of those standards so we don't endanger Americans further.



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Karen FedorovSep 2 2011 03:14 PM

As far as protecting the environment and facilitating green jobs and green energy, President Obama has been a great disappointment. Considering the other choices, I feel I will have to vote for him again..but cannot see my way clear to donate to his campaign.

cynthia petersonSep 2 2011 03:32 PM

I am so disappointed in Obama's lack of support for environmental issues. If this president won't fight to protect the environment, who will? Who can we believe in?

Craig TylendaSep 2 2011 04:25 PM

I think that supporting particular politicians for their "environmental" positions in pretty foolhardy. I've fallen into that trap before (remember our great 'environmentalist' president Clinton?), but never again. Being the 'environmental' candidate means absolutely nothing, it's just a ploy to draw in a particular group of voters.

I looked at Obama's tax return for last year. Not a single cent was donated to support the environment, wildlife habitat, or even animal welfare. As someone who donates to the limit of my ability to these casues that I support, I found that really saddening. Not a single orgaization along these lines was worthy of even $100 of his great wealth.

GuthrumSep 2 2011 05:49 PM

This is the type of decision that should go to a panel or committee made up of scientists and business leaders, no politicians. Work out some sensible recommendations that will not hurt business or the environment. Then go with that. After a year, check to see how they are working out, make adjustments if needed. That's how we solve problems where I'm from.

Noel OatesSep 2 2011 06:11 PM

What ever happened to President Obama's stated preference to be a "really good one-term president" rather than a "mediocre two-term president."? I would like to believe he is not that calculating to say it and not really be willing to be it. If he has changed his mind about that TELL US MR. PRESIDENT. He uses "the middle class blah blah blah" but he has not even mentioned the poor. That omission is telling to me. I also predict he will approve the Key Stone pipeline...and that will be the final straw for me. He makes a foolish calculation to ignore his previously ardent supporters, and repeatedly go against our interests. I thought I was voting for an FDR. Instead we hear how he respects Ronald Reagan...huh? I feel like I've been taken...and I'm getting ticked off. He wont see a dime from me this time.

EdmundSep 3 2011 11:24 AM


Would it be possible to use $100 million to $5 billion of stimulus funds for an auction to buy ozone reduction?

Utilities and their suppliers would compete for these funds by proposing permanent installations that would eliminate a guaranteed quantity of ozone (or its precursors) to win part of this subsidy.

Some utilities might pay part of the costs themselves to win part of the subsidy because they are afraid the regulations will only be delayed.

Some suppliers might absorb some of the costs of supplying the equipment to get an early lead in what could be a large global market.

A minimum percentage of the jobs created would have to be in the U.S. The utilities and the suppliers would not have to worry about the WTO, that would be the U.S. Government's problem. Other countries could join the program and get their own share of the jobs.

Edmund Resor

MickSep 3 2011 01:06 PM

You were tricked into withdrawing your lawsuit.

It's far more than a craven sell-out to business; it's abject treachery.

You were tricked. Everyone was tricked.

It's time people stopped deluding themselves that the President is merely weak, or disorganized, or bipartisan -- he's working for the other side, and always has been. You were all tricked.

PatrickSep 3 2011 08:47 PM

I'm getting to the point where the one, and only one, reason I will vote again for BO (and certainly will not work and donate to his campaign again) is because Mitt Romney and Rick Perry would be much, much worse for the environment.

MickSep 3 2011 09:12 PM

There's no difference. Both party candidates are picked by the banks and oil industry.

However you vote, it's win/win for the money.

Gian-AngeloSep 3 2011 10:38 PM

I have never been a supporter of Barack Obama. When he ran for President he talked constantly about the need to build more nuclear power plants and about the need to burn 'clean coal.' Clean coal, really? That term is right out of the Republican Party talking points manual. In fact, those two items make up the greatest percentage of his 'green' energy program. Of course, both industries are being generously subsidized by us! Any coincidence that that the CEO of GE seems to be at the White House quite often? Any coincidence that GE has not paid much in the way of corporate tax during the Obama years?

[ Gian-Angelo – apologies, but per federal rules governing tax-exempt nonprofit organizations we've removed the last four sentences of your comment; we are prohibited from engaging in, or allowing others to use any of our resources to engage in, political "electioneering." — Ian @ NRDC]

Woody PfisterSep 4 2011 12:17 AM

Actually, it's even worse than it seems. EPA has not been enforcing the Bush Ozone standard of 75 set in 2008, but they're still stuck on the Clinton standard of 85 set back in the 90's.

So, now they're going to ignore the lower Bush standard until 2013, when President Rick Perry will make the decision.

Anthony ZimmermanSep 4 2011 01:40 AM

President Obama called on Americans to call there congressmen when he wanted our support. I think turn about is fair play. I would like to see a national campaign to call in to the white house and congress members demanding stricter smog and pollution legislation. When the White House, Congress, and representatives phones are completely tied up for 24 hours with the same message, maybe they will get the point. President Obama asked us to help him, now it is our turn to let him know he must support the environment. President Obama is scheduled to address congress on the 8th. I say lets make our voices heard loud and clear for 24 hours on the 8th.

Tom MoffattSep 4 2011 01:47 PM

President Obama is pro-smog. It is dishartening to see his true colors. There is absolutely no benefit to be had by catering to the Republicans, so there is no excuse for him to take this position. To talk about reducing government regulation is to take up with the far right of his own free will. Based on his environmental platform, Obama ended up being "Republican Light".

I'm afraid American environmentalists will be left with no viable choice in the next election.

Bob SalzmanSep 6 2011 07:42 AM

The set back on pollution standards was on the same NYTimes front page as the article about Rick Perry calling Social Security is a “failure" enacted during a power grab called the New Deal
We need to take back the narrative from Fox News and openly embrace Roosevelt and the New Deal as our line in the sand and if need be - our Alamo
When FDR faced the same forces of darkness he said “I welcome their hatred”
Could some please get this FDR speech to the White House

Jill HinckleySep 6 2011 01:17 PM

I am so disappointed in Obama for many, many reasons. My vote is always first and foremost for the environment.
I hope he is challenged in the primaries.
AL GORE? Are you listening?

Amanda SonnegaSep 7 2011 08:36 AM

President Obama really needs to get a strong message from his supporters that he will NOT win re-election with such a weak record on environmental issues. They have clearly miscalculated. I did not send my $25 this morning when asked because of these recent actions. I could not get through calling the White House, but I did leave these comments on the Contact Us memo link. Frances, please send another note out asking people to do that if they can't get through on the phone. Petition? How can we be heard??!!!

carol goodbearSep 7 2011 09:47 AM

Here's is my question, EPA issues air quality control standards 'minor source rule' for all oil wells in my homelands (Indian Reservation) yet a stones throw away (fee land/oil wells on state of ND land) EPA cannot enforce these on state jurisdiction lands?! Air is different on an Indian reservation? No, same air its just the same EPA nonesense we have put up with all the time...hmm let's find a way to make it more difficult for you kno 'those Indians'.

Sheri McLaughlinSep 7 2011 05:45 PM

How many U.S. jobs would be generated by Shell drilling off of the ANWAR? Shell is a subsidary of Royal Dutch and is based in the Netherlands.

Caroline BrunnerSep 9 2011 11:35 AM

I am so disappointed with President Obama. His presidency is a continuation of the horrible Bush era.

Alex WallSep 9 2011 11:50 AM

Unfortunately, this is the last straw for me and the Obama administration. There are many compromises and backroom deals that can be made, but these are lives we are talking about, and we just got sold down the river to the polluters.

Comments are closed for this post.


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