On Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a significant change to the air quality standard for ground level ozone, leading to an outcry amongst industry lobbyists.
The EPA’s proposal would see the existing standard of 75 parts per billion lowered to a range of 65 to 70 ppb–closer to what EPA scientists have said is optimal for health, but still not in the range environmentalists would like to see: they estimate that there’s no definite protection of human health until 60 ppb.
A similar proposal from the EPA was shot down previously by the Obama administration, which was facing a reelection campaign. Now, however, with Obama at the end of his second term and wanting to secure his environmental legacy, the EPA and other activists are hoping for a more favorable outcome.
Senate Republicans and industry groups have expressed concern that such a proposal would be prohibitively expensive. In a letter sent to the Office of Management and Budget, Senators David Vitter and Jim Inhofe called the proposal “one of the most devastating regulations in a series of over-reaching regulatory actions” and called for a cost-benefit analysis. This is despite preliminary cost evaluations conducted by the EPA suggesting that meeting a lower ppb standard would actually be cheaper in the long run.
Obama, for his part, has already shown interest in creating a far-reaching environmental legacy during the rest of his time in office. He has not created any new legislation, but has instead focused on reworking the Clean Air Act of 1970 to promote changes in regulations on air pollution, from soot and smog to mercury and carbon dioxide. His work has led to the first American national policy to combat global warming and the reshaping of manufacturing and electric utilities to promote more environmentally friendly products. Obama has worked “to push forward in a way that no president ever has,” said Jody Freeman, director of Harvard University’s environmental law program and a former counselor to the president.
However, opposition from Republicans over threats to jobs could prevent proposed policies from being enacted. In particular, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, likely to take control as majority leader in the next Congressional term, has vowed to block or delay any attempt by the Obama administration to put forward new environmental policies. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, perhaps not incidentally, is a major producer of coal.
The time of Republican leaders passing environmental legislation, such as Nixon signing the 1970 Clean Air Act into law and George Bush updating the act in 1990, appear to be past, at least until the question of definite financial burden is answered.