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Regulatory: The President blinks

Obama’s concession to Republicans on air quality standards may have far-reaching effects.

On Sept. 2, President Obama rejected a draft rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency to toughen the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) limiting ozone emissions. This decision is one of the Administration’s most significant regulatory actions, and the outcome will have substantial consequences. The ozone rule had been a major target of Republican criticism. The President’s preemptive concession in withdrawing the rule will encourage his opponents to continue seeking to roll back other environmental rules during the deficit reduction process.

On Aug. 29, House Republicans targeted 10 “job-destroying regulations” for repeal, including a number of EPA rules:

The provision of the 1970 Clean Air Act under which NAAQSs are established has great symbolic significance for the environmental movement. It provides that NAAQS must be issued on the basis of scientific and health considerations alone, and explicitly prohibits EPA from considering their costs. This law represents the legislative high point of environmental concerns in Congress, and its wisdom has been bitterly contested for the last 40 years. The White House press release justifying the President’s action suggested that the rejection was based on the rule’s potential adverse effects on the economy during the recession. It is hard to imagine a greater blow to the morale of environmentalists than this retreat on NAAQS, or a step better designed to persuade Republicans that they have won the battle of ideas about the adverse effects of regulation.

Rather than reaching closure on regulatory rollback efforts, the Obama Administration’s action will encourage House Republicans to keep pushing. The most informed analysis of energy and environmental issues, published by Clear View Energy Partners, concludes that the Utility MACT, limiting emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants, is “the White House environmental policy bedrock” on which it will not yield, but that other important rules, including the Cross-State Air Pollution rule,are in flux.

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John Cooney

John F. Cooney is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Venable.

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