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Dirty Air, Dirtier Politics: How the Ozone Rules Were Killed

J. Mijin Cha

Ok, it’s true. The Obama Administration did make an environmental decision based on politics and undue outside influence. But it’s not the one that you think.

In September, the Obama Administration put off proposed ozone regulations that would have resulted in cleaner air, better public health and overall cost savings. At the time, we highlighted all the negative consequences and showed how pollution regulations do not cause unemployment or economic losses.  Nevertheless, the President ignored this huge body of evidence -- not to mention his own EPA Administrator -- and postponed any new ozone regulations until 2013.

Earlier this week, The New York Times detailed just how much lobbying and political pressure was put on the Administration by business and oil interests to nix the regulations. The Times details how opponents of the rule swamped Congress and the White House and advanced false claims of the costs of the regulation and the impact on businesses. As the Times states, “The business community and its Republican allies in Congress went to war.” At the same time, there was no one within the White House to push back on these claims. The White House coordinator for energy and environmental policy, Carol Browner, a former EPA administrator, had left her position and the new chief of staff, Bill Daley, a former JP Morgan Chase executive, abolished the position.

The Times also details how well the business and oil industries were received in meetings with White House officials and how dismissive officials were to public health and environmental advocates. When the lobbyist from the American Petroleum Institute showed all the areas that would not comply with the proposed regulation and how they overlapped with red states, Daley was in agreement. Yet, when experts detailed the damaging health effects of higher ozone levels, Mr. Daley replied, “What are the health impacts of unemployment?” a tired and empirically false claim that there must be a choice between job creation and environmental protection.

So, given the obvious politicking that went on to stop the ozone regulations, where are the calls for hearings and investigations? Yesterday, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu was grilled for over five hours over Solyndra, even though there is no evidence of any wrongdoing.

When will Chief of Staff Bill Daley be questioned over the ozone rules? My guess is never.