White House defends reversal on smog rule

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

White House officials this morning defended President Barack Obama’s environmental policies after his sudden reversal on an expensive smog-control regulation under development at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The reversal is justified because a new set of regulations, based on updated science, should produce a better set of draft regulations in 2013, White House officials explained. The policy shift disappointed environmental groups that provide many volunteers and large amounts of money to Democratic candidates.

“This has nothing to do with politics, nothing at all,” said a White House official. “This is a judgement on the merits,” not because of push-back from industry or GOP opposition, the official said.

Those merits, the official said include consideration of the regulation’s likely economic cost.

Many environmental groups are already rallying against the pending Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil from Canadian tar-sands to the U.S. More than 100 activists have chosen to have themselves arrested as part of a two-week protest in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. The larger environmental groups, however, have not threatened to oppose Obama as he allows the pipeline to be built.

The press conference reinforced a public statement from Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change. That statement touted the claimed benefits of the administration’s environmental rules.

“The Administration’s clean air achievements will produce enormous benefits for public health and the environment — while promoting the nation’s continued economic growth and well-being … [which] are estimated to reach nearly $2 trillion in the year 2020, exceeding the costs by a factor of more than 30 to one.”

“When it comes to this administration’s record, we have an incredible record protecting public health, taking historic steps that no administration has taken,” said a second White House official. “We believe in that record and we’re going to stand behind it.”

The surprising turnabout came Friday morning in a statement from the White House press office. “After careful consideration, I have requested that Administrator Jackson withdraw the draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards at this time,” the statement read.

“I want to be clear: My commitment and the commitment of my administration to protecting public health and the environment is unwavering,” Obama said. “But I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.”

The proposed standard it was estimated would carry a price tag in the $19 billion to $90 billion range.

“Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013. Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered,” read the president’s statement.

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