If you blinked, you probably missed it. Last Friday, when most were getting ready to enjoy the Labor Day holiday, President Obama slipped out an announcement that he was asking the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon a move to strengthen air pollution rules, a tightening of the Ozone Standard.
I had hoped for better than this. The ozone standard is one of approximately 15 rules due to be finalized between now and 2012 that, in combination, could force the retirement of almost half of the aging U.S. coal power fleet.
This abandonment means we won’t see a new Ozone Standard until 2013 at the earliest (when it should have been this summer), a date that just happens to be after the next election.
What does this mean for our prospects of retiring the nation’s filthiest power plants? That remains to be seen. We did get some good news earlier this summer on the Transport Rule. I’ve played “wait and see” with this administration before and would not be surprised if we end up getting a rotation of good news-bad news, as we saw with the EPA’s mountaintop removal mining permit announcements last year.
Meanwhile, this sly act of “burying” bad news on a day when it won’t be noticed is not just sneaky, it’s downright insulting. It’s insulting to the people living in neighborhoods close to coal plants who are adversely exposed to respiratory illnesses. The EPA had estimated that their new rule would save 12,000 lives each year. A transition to cleaner, less polluting power sources cannot come quickly enough for these communities.
It’s insulting to the EPA, which, under the leadership of Lisa Jackson, has been working to enforce the Clean Air Act to its original intent based on scientific findings. Ms Jackson has persisted with her mandate, despite repeated attack from the Republicans. Why on earth would the President side with polluting industries against one of his most loyal Administrators?
It’s insulting to the 1,200+ environmental activists who spent the week outside the White House getting arrested in protest of the administration’s plans to approve the hugely polluting Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport half a million barrels a day of carbon-intensive crude from oil-sands developments in western Canada. Those arrested included landowners, scientists, celebrities and people who had worked on Obama’s election campaign. Does the President actually think that industry dollars will get him re-elected without the presence of hard-working activists to do the door-to-door footwork?