Why Is the Obama Administration Stalling on Both Air Pollution and Smog Standards?
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Has someone discovered a way to travel back in time to the Bush administration? On Tuesday, the EPA asked for a one-year delay on new rules for air pollution from industrial boilers. The very next day, the agency announced it wants to wait for another half year before setting new standards for ozone smog. Both actions defy every kind of logic but one -- pandering to polluters and their scare-mongering political allies.
Barack Obama ran and was elected on a promise to protect Americans by cleaning up the air that we breathe every single day. But to clean the air, you have to get your hands dirty. If the polluters who are complaining today had gotten their way for the past 40 years, there never would have been a Clean Air Act, and millions more Americans would have been sickened or died. Many of these polluters -- and their allies in Congress -- have fought progress to improve people's health at every opportunity. We need our president to fight back.
Here's the good news. Investments in reducing pollution are cost-effective. That's right: by investing in modern pollution controls, we'll actually save lives and save money. By the EPA's own analysis, the overall financial benefit to our economy of taking action on soot, smog, and toxics pollution will far outweigh the cost. After you factor in all of the costs of allowing toxic air pollution to continue, as in this just-released report, it becomes obvious that not to act as quickly as possible is economically irresponsible.
But there's more to this issue than the economic analysis. The moral challenge the president and EPA administrator should answer is how much these delays will hurt ordinary Americans -- not corporate polluters. Again, by the agency's own estimate, putting off a decision on an ozone standard for six months means that between 2,000 and 6,000 more Americans will die unnecessarily.
Deciding not to move forward on these important rules is, in fact, allowing those polluters to move us backward. After eight long years of fighting to protect the environment from corporate interests during the Bush years, we aren't about to start retreating now -- under a president who pledged to stand up to polluters and to protect our health and improve jobs and local economies in the process.
President Obama hasn't yet renounced that pledge, and he still has opportunities during the next two years to move boldly and forcefully to fulfill it. If he does, Sierra Club members will go the distance to champion him in that fight for what's right. But you can't champion a fighter if he leaves the ring. Lace up your gloves, Mr. President, and get back in.
Michael Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club.