Obama’s Environmental Lesson

Rich Trzupek is a veteran environmental consultant and senior advisor to the Heartland Institute. He is the author of the new book Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry (Encounter Books).


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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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  • jacob

    This article about the EPA deeds, reminds me that not long ago it was stated that it
    granted close to a million dollars to the Chinese govmt. for a study to minimize lor eliminate the dangerous incidences of methane gas in THEIR coal mines…

    Please tell me if this is not plain, unadulterated STUPIDITY…! ! !
    If their government doesn't give a hoot about, why should WE, owing the Chinese
    govmt. even the way we walk, in hock to them over our eyebrowsbs, fund such a "study" …???????

    GIVE ME A BREAK………..! ! ! ! ! !

  • Sprinklerman

    "The answer of course is that there is some point where the tiny amount of risk reduction associated with another small drop in air pollution doesn’t even come close to balancing out against the economic and societal costs."

    This is called the law of diminishing returns. Initial investment and or effort placed on accomplishing a set objective, will result in potentially significant effects. Continuing this effort, will continue to provide gains in accomplishing that objective but eventually despite that continuing effort, the gains provided given the effort doesn't equal the initial effort or subsequent. Eventually it doesn't make sense to continue the effort.

    But like a lot of other leftest complaints, they just don't get it. Life is full of risk. Some are so high that we should make an effort to curtail emissions or wear a seat belt to make our life safer. But to think that you can eliminate all risk is a fools job.

  • maturin20

    I like the sound of that long, slow death for the coal industry.

    • Kal Kenett

      The real problem coming to our world is the population explosion that's about to happen, (kinda like compound interest) No matter what you like, or dislike- People need energy, cheap energy. Be careful what you wish for.
      Another thing, did you wake up this morning purposely to give us this one brilliant thought of yours, or did your other one die of loneliness, and we took the leftover?
      If you have anything more in depth on the subject, I'll check back later.

      • maturin20

        Why is more people a problem? People are good, they are friends, families, lovers. And why do people need cheap energy? We didn't have it for most of our history, much of the world still doesn't have it. It doesn't mean there's no joy or pleasure in life.

        It's kind of you to say that this thought is brilliant, but I thought it was more of a throwaway joke than anything else.

  • voted against carter

    Hey libratards,.. electricity does not MAGICALLY come out of the wall socket.

    Can you say COAL fired Electrical Generators.

    As in 70% of ALL of the USA's electricity comes from COAL fired Electrical Generators.

    As Bugs Bunny would say,…"What a MAROON!!!"

  • LibertyLover

    @Kal Kennet – The population increase is happening in the worst hell holes on Earth. The reason the birth rate declined in the West is that as we progressed from subsistance to modernity we no longer need large families to overcome infant mortality. Perhaps if we spent less time and money saving the babies of "indigenous peoples" in Africa and Asia we could let the evolutionary cycle do it's work.

  • http://www.fx-exchange.com/ Bowmanave

    It all does boil down to a couple of simple questions. This is an emergency. Our home is on fire. If we don’t act forcefully to save it, nothing else will matter. Not jobs, not taxes, not economic growth. They will become meaningless in a few short years without action on climate change. There is no other issue of equal significance!

    • Poppakap

      So what climate change issue is of such catastrophic proportions? Is it cooling or is it warming? Because the lefty loonies can't seem to decide. The earth's climate is constantly in flux, that's a fact. What's also a fact is that much of the land now covered in ice was once fertile, green, and warm not too terribly long ago (the middle age warming period that preceded the mini-ice age of 200-300 years ago). Was the earth on a path to imminent destruction at that time? Absolutely not. Moreover, the earth produced more food and sustained population growth at the time.

      40-50 years ago the left tried scaring the world's population into supporting massive government spending in an effort to stave off a new ice age that was going to decimate the world's population. Now, the same political travelers are trying once again to scare the world into supporting massive government spending to counteract catastrophic warming. Sorry Bowman, the left can't have it both ways. The data on climate change must come from an extended period of time and can't suggest both an impending ice age and catastrophic warming. So what are rational people to conclude? This is easy; those hyping either case support significantly more government control of our lives. This movement has always been about totalitarian government achieved through environmental policy. The original German Green Party founders have candidly admitted as much.

      So if your house is burning, it's probably because of a methane explosion caused by your basement composting experiment, or because you badly burned your tofu-burger which led to a kitchen fire, not because we need to spend trillions combating a 1 degree increase in anthropogenic heat.

  • Flowerknife_us

    The Enviro-mentalists need to understand what will happen in the real world. Removing Oil, Gas, Coal, leaves Trees.

    Are there enough Mentalists to prevent every tree from being cut down just to stay warm?

    One just has to love profesional students who become stupider with each passing semester.

  • http://msmignoresit.blogspot.com msmii

    There are a large number of governmental agencies which are run by presidential appointees. These appointees must be approved of by congress. What happens when the Congress and the President are all on the same party line is that the vast bureaucratic ship of state turns towards a direction that looks a lot like a centralization of power and a primary dominion. These are things which the founders of America sought to avoid. http://msmignoresit.blogspot.com/2011/09/appointe