Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Obama Backs Away From New NAAQS Ozone Standard At This Time

Sep. 2: To applause from industry groups & Republicans and groans from environmentalist & Democrats, President Obama announced his decision on proposing an upgrade to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone in advance of a regularly scheduled review in 2013. The President said, "Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered."
    In a brief statement the President said, "Over the last two and half years, my administration, under the leadership of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, has taken some of the strongest actions since the enactment of the Clean Air Act four decades ago to protect our environment and the health of our families from air pollution. From reducing mercury and other toxic air pollution from outdated power plants to doubling the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks, the historic steps we've taken will save tens of thousands of lives each year, remove over a billion tons of pollution from our air, and produce hundreds of billions of dollars in benefits for the American people.
    "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. Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013. . .  I want to be clear: my commitment and the commitment of my administration to protecting public health and the environment is unwavering. I will continue to stand with the hardworking men and women at the EPA as they strive every day to hold polluters accountable and protect our families from harmful pollution. And my administration will continue to vigorously oppose efforts to weaken EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act or dismantle the progress we have made."
    The official directive to U.S. EPA came in the form of a 2-page letter from OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) Administrator Cass Sunstein to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Sunstein said the draft final rule, submitted to OMB on July 11, warrants reconsideration based on three related points. He cited: (1) "finalizing a new standard now is not mandatory and could produce needless uncertainty." (2) indicating that EPA's proposed rule is based on a 2006 scientific review, "work has already begun on a new and forthcoming scientific review, 'based on the best available science.'" (3) citing the recently finalized Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and other proposed rules [e.g. Utility Mact & Boiler MACT], "Cumulatively, these and other recently proposed and finalized rules count as truly historic achievements in protecting public health by decreasing air pollution levels, across the nation." The White House also released a summary by Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, summarizing the Obama Administration's actions "taken to reduce harmful air pollution while promoting the nation's economic growth and well-being." (see link below).
    EPA announced on July 26, that it would not meet its self-imposed July 29 deadline for releasing new NAAQS for ozone [See WIMS 7/26/11]. An Agency spokesperson said that although it would not issue the final rule on July 29th, which it had intended, it would be finalizing the standard shortly and it would be "based on the best science and meet the obligation established under the Clean Air Act to protect the health of the American people. In implementing this new standard, EPA will use the long-standing flexibility in the Clean Air Act to consider costs, jobs and the economy."
    EPA Administrator Jackson commented on the President's announcement and said, "Since day one, under President Obama's leadership, EPA has worked to ensure health protections for the American people, and has made tremendous progress to ensure that Clean Air Act standards protect all Americans by reducing our exposures to harmful air pollution like mercury, arsenic and carbon dioxide.  This Administration has put in place some of the most important standards and safeguards for clean air in U.S. history: the most significant reduction of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide air pollution across state borders; a long-overdue proposal to finally cut mercury pollution from power plants; and the first-ever carbon pollution standards for cars and trucks.  We will revisit the ozone standard, in compliance with the Clean Air Act."
    On July 28, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) pressed Jackson for more information concerning the Agency's "discretionary reconsideration of ambient air quality standards for ground-level ozone and its proposal to issue costly new standards." They said, "If finalized, these standards will impose unprecedented costs, ranging from $19 billion to $90 billion annually by your agency's own estimates, and result in new regulatory burdens for employers, businesses and already cash-strapped states and communities struggling to grow their local economies and create jobs. . ." [See WIMS 7/28/11].
    Environmental organizations argue that according to the Clean Air Act -- and reinforced by a 2001 Supreme Court decision in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations (Nos. 99-1257, 99-1426) -- ground-level ozone standards must be set solely according to the findings of EPA scientists and the EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, an independent panel of experts. According to the law, states and localities can take economics into consideration during the implementation process. As expressed recently by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) [See WIMS 7/28/11], "The Obama administration promised in 2009 to revisit an unscientific Bush administration decision to define dangerous levels of ozone at 75 parts per billion. That decision, which was later challenged in court, disregarded public health scientists' finding in 2007 that only a standard of 60 to 70 parts per billion was scientifically justifiable. In 2010, the EPA issued a proposed rule in that range. However, a final rule with a specific numerical standard has been repeatedly delayed." [See WIMS 12/9/10]. 
    Following the announcement, the White House released a number of comment from state and local officials regarding the President's decision. Included in the comments were Michigan's Republican Governor Rick Snyder who said, "The President made the right decision to stop this move by the EPA. The present ozone standard was last reviewed a mere three years ago.  Michigan companies have worked hard to meet the standard, because we all support a healthy environment. It is important to balance environmental goals with the need for economic development, particularly as Michigan and the rest of the nation work to recover from the recession."

    Also included, Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman (D) said, "I want to thank President Obama and his administration for listening and working with state and local governments. Withdrawing the new standard allows an update of the science and the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013 while granting our state and local governments and businesses more regulatory certainty and flexibility. President Obama and his administration are strong partners with those of us on the state and local level of government in the fight for clean air and public health." 

    Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, issued a statement saying, "I strongly believe that protecting air quality based on the science leads to more job growth because it brings so many positive health benefits to our workers. Although I am disappointed with this decision to delay action, I am heartened by the President's commitment to vigorously oppose any efforts to dismantle the Clean Air Act and the progress that we have made."
    Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Senate EPW Committee said, "President Obama has finally pulled the plug on what would have been the most expensive EPA regulation in history. . .  I am pleased that today's announcement offers some good news for Oklahoma and the nation. . . Yet the ozone standard is just the beginning of the Obama EPA's regulatory 'train wreck' that is set to wreak havoc on our economy.  If the President is truly serious about reducing the regulatory burdens on our country, as he said today, he should immediately apply the brakes to this regulatory train and get on the right track to restoring the balance between environmental progress and economic growth."
    American Petroleum Institute (API) President and CEO Jack Gerard welcomed President Obama's decision and said, "The President's decision is good news for the economy and Americans looking for work.  EPA's proposal would have prevented the very job creation that President Obama has identified as his top priority. Ozone levels and air quality continue to improve under current regulations and our industry is committed to making the air we all breathe cleaner while creating new jobs. . ."
    U.S. Chamber of Commerce's President and CEO Thomas Donohue issued a statement saying, "The U.S. Chamber is glad the White House heeded our warning and withdrew these potentially disastrous – and completely voluntary – actions from the EPA. This an enormous victory for America's job creators, the right decision by the President, and one that will help reduce the uncertainty facing businesses. It's also a big first step in what needs to be a broader regulatory reform effort. If today's employment report reveals anything, it's that our economy is in neutral. Private sector studies predicted that the standards would have cost as many as 7.3 million American jobs by 2020. I'm pleased the administration recognizes that now is not the time to burden America's job creators with unwarranted regulations. . ."
    John Engler, president of Business Roundtable (BRT), an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies said, "This is the number one regulatory priority for Business Roundtable member companies. Creating U.S. jobs and providing more economic certainty for all Americans, especially on the heels of today's news that the U.S. unemployment rate remains persistently high, is our greatest challenge. If President Obama's speech next week is as positive as this decision was today, it will be a success." Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Company and Vice Chair of BRT and Chair of BRT's Regulatory Reform Working Group said, "We applaud the president's decision to withdraw the ozone rule. This was the right decision and consistent with policy established in his executive order. It will have a direct and positive impact on the business community providing more certainty and will contribute to economic growth and job creation. We hope this sets the standard for future regulatory actions."
    Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) issued a statement saying, "This is a new low for President Obama. He sold out public health and environmental protection to appease polluters. Mr. Obama's shortsighted political decision will have long-term health consequences for millions of Americans. . ." Fred Krupp, President of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said, "This unfortunate decision puts millions of Americans, particularly children, at risk from industrial pollution. We're deeply disappointed that the administration has chosen to leave in place outdated standards that lag far behind what scientists have unanimously recommended."
    Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) President Frances Beinecke issued a statement saying, "The White House is siding with corporate polluters over the American people. The Clean Air Act clearly requires the Environmental Protection Agency to set protective standards against smog--based on science and the law. The White House now has polluted that process with politics. Our public officials, including in the White House, serve to protect us from harm. They need to get on with doing their jobs. Inaction cannot be an option when it comes to ensuring a healthy and prosperous America."   
    Access the statement from the President (click here). Access the 2-page letter from OIRA (click here). Access the White House comments from state and local officials (click here). Access the White House summary of clean air actions (click here). Access EPA's ground-level ozone regulatory website for complete background (click here). Access the statement from Sen. Boxer (click here). Access the statement from Sen. Inhofe (click here). Access the statement from API (click here). Access the statement from the U.S. Chamber (click here). Access the statement from the BRT (click here). Access the statement from CBD (click here). Access the statement from EDF (click here). Access the statement from NRDC (click here). [#Air]