Bowing to 20 months of pressure from Republicans and the business community, the Obama administration has finally withdrawn its plan to further tighten ozone emission standards.
The decision was a victory for coatings makers and the manufacturing community, which had bitterly opposed the bill as an unnecessary, costly burden on business.
Just a few weeks ago, the administration retreated a fourth time on issuing the new National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone (NAAQS), which the Environmental Protection Agency proposed in January 2010.
The final rule was to have been released by August 2010, then by Nov. 1, then by Dec. 31, and then by July 29, 2011. The rule went to the Office of Management and Budget—typically, among the last stops for a new regulation—on July 11, and seemed at that point to be a done deal.
On July 27, however, the EPA abruptly announced that it was delaying action on the rule yet again.
The White House
|Withdrawal of the regulation came on the eve of President Obama’s Labor Day visit to Detroit. The decision followed bad news on the unemployment front.|
Then, on Friday (Sept. 2), the president announced that he had told EPA chief Lisa Jackson “to withdraw” the proposal “at this time.”
“Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013,” Obama said. “Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered.”
‘Regulatory Burdens’ Cited
Obama made his announcement just hours after the Labor Department reported that the United States had added no jobs in August, keeping the unemployment rate stalled at 9.1 percent. Economists had predicted a gain of about 75,000 jobs in August.
Employment reports for June and July were also revised downward, and both the length of the average workweek and average hourly earnings declined.
Obama said his administration maintained an “unwavering” commitment to public health and the environment. “At the same time,” he added, “I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.”
Coatings Industry Opposition
The American Coatings Association, which represents coatings manufacturers, had no immediate comment on the rule’s withdrawal but had fought the proposal fiercely
Most recently, ACA expressed its opposition this summer in letters to both Jackson and the Office of Management and Budget, but the association told members in July that the plan appeared to be “on track over industry opposition.”
ACA had said the new standards would be “extremely costly for manufacturers.”
Tightening Bush Standards
The proposal to reduce concentrations of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, would have tightened a 2008 standard set by President George W. Bush. Jackson contended that the Bush standard of 75 parts per billion would not survive a legal challenge by the American Lung Association because it did not follow the recommendations of the EPA’s scientific advisers.
In March, that independent panel unanimously recommended strengthening the standard, saying the limits proposed by the Obama administration would benefit public health. EPA said the measure would have cost anywhere from $19 billion to $90 billion, depending on the level of enforcement, but would also have save billions of dollars in health-care costs.
Agencies ‘Can Hardly Cope’
However, the proposal drew increasing fire from Republicans, the business community and, eventually, some Democrats. On July 24, 32 U.S. senators—Democrats and Republicans—signed a letter asking Jackson to withdraw the rule and let the previously established five-year review process take its course.
“EPA’s reconsideration is occurring outside the statutorily directed five-year review process for NAAQS and without any new scientific basis necessitating a change in the 2008 standard,” the letter said. “Moreover, this decision will burden state and local air agencies that, in the current budgetary climate, can hardly cope with existing obligations.”
The Associated Press noted that the EPA had proposed “a range for the concentration of ground-level ozone allowed in the air — from 60 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion. That’s about equal to a single tennis ball in an Olympic-size swimming pool full of tennis balls.”
Lawsuit to Resume
The American Lung Association, which had sued the EPA over the Bush standard, now says it will resume its legal fight, which it had suspended after the Obama administration promised to correct it.
The ozone standard was the latest in series of regulatory retreats by the Obama administration. In January, the president announced a sweeping overhaul of the federal regulatory system, ordering a review of any regulation that was outdated, duplicative, unnecessary or “just plain dumb.” Many rules have been rescinded, and many proposed rules that were in process have been halted.
‘The Right Move’
National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons called Obama’s decision “the right move to protect jobs, and we hope it serves as a cautionary tale.”
Timmons said manufacturers “still face a great deal of uncertainty from regulations looming on the horizon … that will hamper our ability to grow and compete. We urge the Administration to apply the same approach to these other burdensome regulations that it did when deciding to forgo the discretionary ozone standard.”
|A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the withdrawn proposal was just “the tip of the iceberg” in “stopping Washington Democrats’ agenda.”|
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called withdrawal of the plan “only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stopping Washington Democrats’ agenda of tax hikes, more government stimulus spending, and increased regulations, which are all making it harder to create more American jobs.”
Obama said his administration would “continue to vigorously oppose efforts to weaken EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act or dismantle the progress we have made.”