Moreover, Obama, in a letter last week to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), sought to show flexibility on a number of potential new rules being suggested by his agencies. Those ideas, he wrote, “are merely proposed, and before finalizing any of them, we will take account of public comments and concerns and give careful consideration to cost-saving possibilities and alternatives.”
One early indication of the president’s new focus on regulation came in January, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration withdrew a proposed rule that would have required employers to record repetitive-motion injuries.
The ozone standard was one of several controversial air-quality measures under consideration, including new limits on mercury and air toxins.
Industry and advocacy groups — many of them caught off guard by the ozone ruling — are struggling to assess its larger meaning.
Cass Sunstein, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said in an interview Saturday that the White House’s approach involved a “careful analysis of costs and benefits, trying to make sure the benefits justify the costs.”
“We’re committed to protecting public health and welfare, but in a way that’s attuned to the economic situation,” he said.
But Sunstein said observers should not draw larger conclusions based on the ozone action, which was Obama’s personal decision. The president’s arguments, Sunstein added, “are very distinctive to the discussion of ozone.”
In some ways, the ozone regulation was easier to jettison than others, because it will come up for review again in 2013 and other air-quality rules could achieve some of the same outcomes. Key industries had made powerful economic arguments against it, warning the White House that they might not open new facilities out of concern that the standards would block their operating permits.
Natural-gas companies, for example, argued to the administration that the rule might hamper their ability to take advantage of newly accessible natural-gas reserves.
Cal Dooley, president and chief executive of the American Chemical Council, said his members made it clear that they were “really poised to make billions of dollars in investments in the United States.”
Stephen Brown, vice president and counsel for Tesoro Cos., said people would be wrong to assume that the administration will abandon several of the other controversial air-quality regulations the EPA is planning to finalize this year.
“They are not backing down from using the Clean Air Act to regulate across the board,” Brown said. “This was probably the weakest one to fight on, politically. They opted not to; that’s all it is.”