Obama Cites Economic Consequences as Reason for Declining New EPA Standards


By: Clay Duncan, Staff Member

Among other things, the Clean Air Act is intended “to protect and enhance the quality of the Nation’s air resources so as to promote the public health and welfare and the productive capacity of its population.”[1] President Barack Obama has recently made clear that this objective must yield to other concerns by rejecting heightened smog standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) earlier this month.[2] As Americans, we must realize that placing emphasis on job creation and economic sustainability may come at the expense of our most valuable asset of all: the health of the people.

In July, the EPA released its final draft of stricter smog standards whose intended effect would be to reduce exhaust emissions from America’s power plants and provide healthier breathing air.[3] The agency said that the implementation of these standards could soon “prevent as many as 34,000 premature deaths each year.”[4] The National Ambient Air Quality Standards would reduce ground-level ozone to 60 to 70 parts per billion.[5]

Despite these valid public health interests, President Obama has cited the economic recovery and need for job growth as justifications for rejecting the standards.[6] Obama stated that “reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty” was crucial to an economic rebound.[7] The implication seems to be that manufacturers will be less willing to hire in the face of rising regulatory compliance costs.

Environmental advocates are skeptical that these economic concerns are strong enough to override those underlying the EPA regulations. Rather, they feel that this decision by Obama is the result of industry lobbyists getting exactly what they want.[8] Environmentalists say that health care costs will keep rising and Americans will keep dying unnecessarily if our smog problem is not addressed by appropriate regulations.[9]

It is without question that the interests of the manufacturing industry and that of environmental groups will never align. But can we not grow our economy without polluting our air and infecting our citizens? If not, which interest prevails? On this occasion, it seems that big industry has persuaded the powers that be to hold off on the enhancement of emission standards. Going forward, hopefully the President will defer to the EPA in hopes of maintaining the health of the American people, even if it comes at the expense of the American economy.

[1] 42 U.S.C.A. §7401(b)(1) (West 2011).

[2] Cheryl Kaften, Obama Sacks New EPA Smog Standards, Green Technology World (Sept. 6, 2011),http://green.tmcnet.com/topics/green/articles/215244-obama-sacks-new-epa-smog-standards.htm.

[3] Elizabeth Shogren, EPA Issues New Standards For Coal-Burning Plants, npr (July 7, 2011),http://www.npr.org/2011/07/07/137681222/epa-issues-new-standards-for-coal-burning-plants.

[4] Id.

[5] Kaften, supra note 2.

[6] Id.

[7] Industry Victory: Obama Withdraws EPA’s Stricter Smog Standards, Environment News Service(Sept. 2, 2011), http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/sep2011/2011-09-02-01.html.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.