US President Barack Obama scrubbed a clean-air regulation on Friday that aimed to reduce health-threatening smog, yielding to bitterly protesting businesses and congressional Republicans who complained the rule would kill jobs in the US’ ailing economy.
Withdrawal of the proposed regulation marked the latest in a string of retreats by the president in the face of Republican opposition, and it drew quick criticism from liberals. Environmentalists, a crucial Obama constituency, accused him of caving to corporate polluters, and the American Lung Association threatened to restart the legal action it had begun against rules proposed by former US president George W. Bush.
The White House has been under heavy pressure from Republican lawmakers and major industries, which have condemned the stricter standard as an unnecessary jobs killer. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose scientific advisers favored the tighter limits, had predicted the proposed change would cost up to US$90 billion a year, making it one of the most expensive environmental regulations ever imposed in the US.
The Clean Air Act bars the EPA from considering the costs of complying when setting public health standards.
Obama said his decision was made in part to reduce regulatory burdens and uncertainty at a time of rampant questions about the strength of the US economy.
White House officials said the president’s decision was not the product of industry pressure, and they said the administration would continue to fight other efforts by Republicans to dismantle the EPA’s authority.
That was little consolation for many of the president’s supporters. The group MoveOn.org issued a scathing statement, saying Obama’s decision was one it would have expected from his Republican predecessor.
“Many MoveOn members are wondering today how they can ever work for President Obama’s re-election, or make the case for him to their neighbors, when he does something like this, after extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich and giving in to ... demands on the debt deal,” MoveOn executive director Justin Ruben said.
The American Lung Association, which had sued the EPA over Bush’s smog standards, said it would resume its legal fight now that Obama was essentially endorsing the weaker limit. The group had suspended its lawsuit after the Obama administration pledged to change it.
Underscoring the economic concerns is a new report on Friday that showed the economy essentially adding no jobs last month and the unemployment rate stubbornly stuck at 9.1 percent.
The regulation would have reduced concentrations of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, a powerful lung irritant that can cause asthma and other lung ailments. Smog is created when emissions from cars, power and chemical plants, refineries and other factories mix in sunlight and heat.
Republican lawmakers, already emboldened by Obama’s concessions on extending Bush-era tax cuts and his agreement to more than US$1 trillion in spending reductions as the price for raising the nation’s debt ceiling, had pledged to try to block the stricter smog standards as well as other EPA regulations when they returned to Washington after a national holiday on Monday that honors the US’ workers.
Michael Steel, spokesman for Republican Speaker in the US House of Representatives John Boehner, said removing the smog regulations was a good start, but “is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stopping Washington Democrats’ agenda of tax hikes, more government ‘stimulus’ spending and increased regulations.”