Concerned about jobs, Obama ditches tough EPA smog rule

Diesel trucks and windmills
Emissions-producing diesel trucks and cars pass non-polluting windmills along Interstate 10 near Banning, California. President Barack Obama on Sept. 2, 2011, sacked a controversial proposed regulation tightening health-based standards for smog, bowing to the demands of congressional Republicans and some business leaders.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

By JULIE PACE and DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama on Friday sacked a controversial proposed regulation tightening health-based standards for smog, bowing to the demands of congressional Republicans and some business leaders.

Obama overruled the Environmental Protection Agency and directed administrator Lisa Jackson to withdraw the proposal, in part because of the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and uncertainty for businesses at a time of rampant uncertainty about an unsteady economy.

The announcement came shortly after a new government report on private sector employment report showed that businesses essentially added no new jobs last month - and that the jobless rate remained stuck at a historically high 9.1 percent.

The withdrawal of the proposed EPA rule comes three days after the White House identified seven such regulations that it said would cost private business at least $1 billion each. The proposed smog standard was estimated to cost anywhere between $19 billion and $90 billion, depending on how strict it would be.

Republican lawmakers have blamed what they see as excessive regulations backed by the Obama administration for some of the country's economic woes, and House Republicans pledged this week to try to block four environmental regulations, including the one on some pollution standards, when they return after Labor Day.

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But perhaps more than some of the other regulations under attack, the ground-level ozone standard is most closely associated with public health - something the president said he wouldn't compromise in his regulatory review. Ozone is the main ingredient in smog, which is a powerful lung irritant that occasionally forces cancellation of school recesses, and causes asthma and other lung ailments.

Criticism from environmentalists, a core Obama constituency, was swift following the White House announcement.

"The Obama administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe," said Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters. "This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health."

Sierra Nevada smog
This picture taken from on board Air Force One in August 2010 shows smog settling down at the valley of Serra Nevada Mountains of Nevada. President Barack Obama on Sept. 2, 2011, sacked a controversial proposed regulation tightening health-based standards for smog, bowing to the demands of congressional Republicans and some business leaders.
Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

In his statement, the president said that withdrawing the regulation did not reflect a weakening of his commitment to protecting public health and the environment.

"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," he said.

The decision mirrors one made by Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush. EPA scientists had recommended a stricter standard to better protect public health. Bush personally intervened after hearing complaints from electric utilities and other affected industries. His EPA set a standard of 75 parts per billion, stricter than one adopted in 1997, but not as strong as federal scientists said was needed to protect public health.

The EPA under Obama proposed in January 2010 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.

Obama's environmental chief, Lisa Jackson, said at the time that "using the best science to strengthen these standards is a long overdue action that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live healthier."

The announcement came not long after a new government report showed that the country's civilian unemployment rate remained stuck at 9.1 percent in August.

Obama has scheduled a primetime speech to a joint session of Congress and the nation next Thursday night to outline plans he has made for combating high joblessness and spurring economic growth.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)