President Obama recently announced the cancellation of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to update weak and scientifically unsupported Bush-era ozone standards. The President based this unfortunate decision on the newly popular idea that protecting human health and the environment is bad for the economy. The President bought into this rhetoric from Tea Party elites despite the fact that the majority of people who identify themselves as Tea Partiers do not believe that environmental regulations kill jobs and despite the fact that environmental regulations actually create jobs while saving lives.
It is a major concern that the President would abandon an important clean air standard in the face of loud, but uninformed, alarmist and patently wrong criticisms. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is facing the same frivolous attacks on all of their energy-related environmental policy from coal ash to cooling water. Such attacks have served to slow the Administration’s agenda, letting down environmental and public health advocates as well as children, the elderly, and others uniquely at risk from air pollution. In the area of climate policy, however, the Administration has made a few small steps forward. Obama was able to stay the course on the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Tailoring Rule, but will be tested to hold firm in setting New Source Performance Standards for GHGs.
The Tailoring Rule is the first-ever federal rule to limit GHG emissions and Phase I took effect in January of 2011. The rule requires the largest new GHG emitters to include GHG reduction measure in their construction permits and the largest existing emitters to include measures when their operating permits are renewed. The Tailoring rule is a small step — more a symbol than a solution. Nonetheless, regulating GHGs for the first time is an important first-step regarding climate pollution produced by the energy sector. This past July, Tailoring Rule Phase II (which broadens the scope of emitters subject to the rule) took effect without fanfare, while Phase I was the subject of political fear-mongering prior to its enactment. Opponents claimed that the Tailoring Rule’s impact would be so widespread as to be a de facto moratorium on all new construction projects. That both Phase I and Phase II actually occurred without any economic upheaval or major political backlash confirms that the Obama Administration can follow-through on climate policy implementation contrary to those who predict the worst economic disruption.
Perhaps more importantly, not only has it been proven that the President can move forward, he must. Scientists suggest that we are seeing drastic weather impacts from a changing climate, for example, more frequent storms, extended droughts. We also se serious health risks from sources such as increased ozone pollution caused by warming temperatures. There are also legal and political factors driving the need for action. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2007 and again in June 2011 that EPA is authorized and expected to regulate carbon dioxide pollution through the Clean Air Act and Congress has shown that it will take no further action on climate pollution. That puts the burden squarely on EPA to address this threat.
If the President truly cares about the environment in general and climate change specifically, he now has a chance to prove it. When issuing the Tailoring Rule, EPA committed to establishing a Phase III by the summer of 2012. The President must strongly back that effort. Likewise, EPA promised to issue New Source Performance Standards for major GHG emitters, namely coal plants. They planned to unveil these new standards this summer, but — as with so many EPA rules, including the ozone rule prior to its death – the new standards were delayed first in July and then again, just today, EPA acknowledge yet another delay. President Obama can make or break this rule and prevent any further feet-dragging.
In order to distance himself from the Tea Party and follow through on his promises, President Obama cannot parrot their talking points as he did when he canceled the ozone standards. As shown with Phase I and Phase II of the Tailoring rule, polluters and their allies may cry gloom and doom about new regulations, but once new regulations are passed, without data on job losses to back up their claims, they drop the issue and move on to scaremongering about the next proposed regulation. Despite Tea Party efforts, the public still supports action on climate change! President Obama must direct the EPA to move forward on high-priority climate policy initiatives and he must publicly challenge the nonsensical notions that pollution creates jobs.
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