President Obama caved on safer smog standards
Published: Sunday, September 04, 2011
By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
Tens of thousands of people are dying prematurely each year from breathing dirty air. Many more fall ill with asthma, bronchitis or heart attacks. But major polluters don’t want to talk about the smog that’s killing them.
They’d rather spin this into an economic threat. Dirty industries know they can exploit unemployment anxiety by howling that stronger standards under the Clean Air Act would lead to job losses.
And sadly, their Republican friends in Congress now have President Obama running scared. On Friday, he caved in to business lobbyists, abandoning his plan to tighten clean air rules to meet the standard set by scientists. Instead, he accepted the weaker rules set by President George W. Bush, who had simply ignored the counsel of his own scientists.
Putting off safer standards until after the 2012 election may be politically convenient, but it’s a huge loss to public heath. This policy isn’t based on solid arguments, or even public support. Nearly every industry, from food makers to airlines, must incur costs to make sure their products are safe. It’s just a part of doing business.
Americans know that. A national poll of likely voters from all parties, taken in June, found that 75 percent support stronger smog standards, and 66 percent believe scientists — not Congress — should establish clean air standards, according to the American Lung Association.
Safer smog standards would have saved as many as 4,300 lives and avoided as many as 2,200 heart attacks every year, advocates say. Cleaner air cuts down on missed work days, emergency room visits and hospital stays, saving billions in public health costs.
And despite all the alarmist talk from lobbyists about today’s fragile economy, the compliance costs wouldn’t have kicked in for several years, at the earliest.
Don’t forget the Clean Air Act also creates jobs.
Pollution control products are a multibillion-dollar industry. Scrubbers that clean smokestacks, diesel filters that trap smoke from trucks and catalytic converters that filter out harmful auto exhaust are all made by workers right here in the United States.
So let the EPA do its job and set standards based on science. The public deserves the truth about the quality of its air, not political games.