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Environmentalists decry Obama pullback on smog protections

September 2nd, 2011

From Green Right Now Reports

Under pressure from Republicans and business leaders concerned about the effect of regulations on jobs, the Obama Administration on Friday  pushed back the EPA imminent plans to tighten smog regulations, prompting an outcry from disappointed environmental groups.

The draft plan by the EPA would have lowered the allowable smog particles in the air, to a level deemed healthier by EPA scientists than the present levels set during the Bush Administration. The EPA’s plan had the support of the American Lung Association and major environmental groups that believe it would have helped reduce asthma and respiratory illnesses.

The president said he was adamant in his continued support of the Clean Air Act, saying in a statement that “… the commitment of my administration to protecting public health and the environment is unwavering. I will continue to stand with the hardworking men and women at the EPA as they strive every day to hold polluters accountable and protect our families from harmful pollution. And my administration will continue to vigorously oppose efforts to weaken EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act or dismantle the progress we have made.”

Business associations, such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute had lobbied for the delay this summer, saying it would be too costly to hold polluting industries to a higher standard in the poor economy. Those opposed argued that the proposed Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards would have cost businesses $90 billion; environmentalists countered that it would have saved that much or more in related health care costs incurred by people affected by ozone pollution.

Here’s a sampling of reaction to the withdrawal from environmental groups:

  • Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club:

“The Sierra Club condemns the Obama administration’s decision to delay critical, long-overdue protections from smog, an acidic air pollutant that when inhaled is like getting a sunburn on your lungs. By putting the interest of coal and oil polluters first, the White House seems to be saying that ‘clean air will have to wait.’

“A healthy economy requires clean air and healthy people, and these protections from smog would have improved our communities and saved billions of dollars in health costs. Half of U.S. families live in places where it is literally unsafe to breathe the air, and kicking the inhaler down the road will do nothing to protect our children.

“We thank the scientists and public health professionals at the EPA for their commitment to science, and we look forward to the day when strong clean air protections will prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of asthma attacks. The Sierra Club and the millions of Americans who have suffered through orange and red-alert air quality days this record-breaking summer will continue to push the Obama Administration to improve this protection in order to save lives and clean up our air.”

  • Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters:

“The Obama Administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe.   “This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health.”

The LCV noted that smog regulations are being sacked in a year that registered 2,000 Code Orange air quality alerts across the country, as hotter air mixed with carbon emissions to create ground-level ozone. Orange Alerts mean it’s unhealthy for children, seniors, people who are very active and people with respiratory conditions to go outside.

  • Martin Hayden, Earthjustice vice president of policy and legislation:

“The Obama administration knows the heavy cost of smog pollution but has made the terrible decision to leave outdated, weak standards in place, leaving thousands of Americans who suffer from lung and breathing problems at the mercy of this dirty air.

“The EPA’s own science advisers have recommended strengthening the standards but even their voices are muted by corporate polluters and their allies. The EPA estimates that cleaning up smog pollution would save up to 12,000 lives every year, prevent 58,000 asthma attacks and avoid 21,000 hospital and emergency room visits. These health benefits are valued as high as $100 billion annually.

“Sacrificing American lives and forcing our friends and family members who suffer from asthma to breathe dirty air is a poor legacy for President Obama. Keeping weak, inefficient standards in place is not the change we were promised. It’s a travesty that the Obama administration in this case has refused to place the health of America’s children and citizens above corporate greed.”

  • Steve Cochran, vice president, Climate and Air, The Environmental Defense Fund

This decision leaves in place outdated, Bush-era standards that lag far behind what scientists have unanimously recommended and will result in more than 45,000 cases of aggravated asthma and over 1.5 million missed work or school days per year.


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