The Obama administration’s decision to tighten federal ozone standards this week marked departure from the president’s previous thinking on the regulations, though not as dramatic a shift as environmentalists had hoped.
Four years ago, Obama disappointed public health organizations and green groups when he decided to stop the EPA’s work on overhauling the standard.
“There was an eruption of outrage across the country, from the president’s base, from newspapers, editorial boards,” John Walke, the director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council said.
“It was easily the most controversial, worst environmental and public health decision of his first term.”
At the time, Obama argued the economy was too weak to risk a strict new limit on ozone pollution. He punted on finalizing the new limits until Thursday, when the EPA tightened the standard on ozone-causing chemicals from 75 to 70 parts per billion on Thursday. The decision prompted consternation from both industry groups opposed to the cost of reaching the standard and a clean air advocacy coalition that had hoped the new limits would go even further.
The administration defended the rule from against criticism, with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy contending the standard is based on reams of scientific evidence that proved 70 parts per billion to be an acceptable ozone limit for healthy adults.
But in 2011, the EPA, under then-administrator Lisa Jackson, wanted to go even further, proposing a standard of 65 parts per billion, based on research the Bush administration used when analyzing the standard back in 2008.
Obama told the EPA to hold off. He acknowledged that he didn’t want to create more regulatory requirements at a time — fall 2011 — when the economy was sputtering.
“I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover,” he said in a statement then.