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It’s taken a while, but Barack Obama may be starting to catch on to the fact that his much more savvy Democratic predecessor in the Oval Office, Bill Clinton, figured out fairly early: a Democratic President doesn’t have to kowtow to the environmental movement. Democrats can rather ignore them, because whom else are greenies going to vote for? Republicans? Nope. Ralph Nader? Big deal. Much the same is the case with the African American community: Democrats have a monopoly on the green movement and thus they can afford to ignore its wishes.
It did, admittedly, take what was – or at least should have been – a no-brainer of a decision for Barack Obama to finally say no to the wishes of the eco-left. Last week Obama, like George W. Bush before him, directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to leave the ambient air ozone standard right where it is, at seventy-five parts per billion.
If that’s not quite good news for the economy, it’s certainly less bad news. Lowering the ambient air ozone standard further, as so many environmental organizations wished, would have been a disaster for America. It would have added billions of dollars in costs to industries located in areas that have heretofore been spared the worst of the EPA’s regulatory burden, driven up the price of fuel and created even more job losses.
By Act of Congress, the EPA gets to set ambient air standards by itself, unless the president intervenes. This is the ultimate in job security for a bureaucrat; a way of ensuring that the EPA’s work is never – can never – be done. It wasn’t that long ago that the ambient air standard for ozone was 120 parts per billion, a value that both EPA and environmental groups then assured us was the dividing line between healthy and unhealthy air.
Unfortunately for the EPA, America cleaned up the air to the point that just about every county met that goal. What to do? If you’re the EPA and you actually meet a goal, the choices are: 1) declare victory (and lose funding), or 2) move the goalposts back so that you stay relevant. Guess which choice the agency always makes? Such was the case with ozone standard, with the EPA sliding the goalposts back under Clinton and again under Bush.
Yet, even though the Bush-era standard was lower than the Clinton-era standard, Bush was bad for the environment, while Clinton was good, according to the leftist narrative. This self-fulfilling prophecy manifested itself many times, including when Bush’s EPA lowered the ozone standard.
Back then, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) had recommended lowering the ozone standard to as little as 60 parts per billion. (The standard was then 80 parts per billion.) President Bush considered CASAC’s advice and weighed that against the economic price that would be paid and decided – rightly in my opinion – that the tiny improvement in already good air quality wouldn’t come close to offsetting the economic consequences. For those economic consequences – job loss, reductions in income and all the rest – have every bit of an impact on the health and welfare of the populace as does the environment in which we live. And so, by presidential order, the EPA lowered the standard to a reasonable level: 75 parts per billion.
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