The Washington Post

Business leaders call for delay of new smog rules

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described former Michigan governor John Engler as the head of the National Association of Manufacturers. Engler held that post until January; he is now president of the Business Roundtable. This version has been corrected.

Business groups called on the Obama administration Tuesday to delay new regulations aimed at curbing smog nationwide, arguing that manufacturers cannot afford to install new pollution controls given the sluggish economy.

By the end of the month, the Environmental Protection Agency will finalize rules setting more-stringent air quality standards for counties across the nation, replacing ones set under the George W. Bush administration.

Ground-level ozone — also known as smog — is formed when emissions from power plants, other industrial facilities, vehicles and landfills react in the sunlight. Smog can cause or aggravate health problems such as asthma and heart disease, and it has been linked to premature death.

On Tuesday, several major trade associations held a joint conference call with reporters to suggest that the EPA postpone the new standards until 2013. The public appeal highlighted the political stakes. Many of the counties most likely to be affected by the new standards are in manufacturing states that could prove critical in next year’s presidential election.

“I think we’re headed toward 2012 as a jobs election,” said John Engler, the former Republican governor of Michigan who now heads the Business Roundtable, after a stint heading the National Association of Manufacturers. He added that when it comes to stricter smog standards, “these are real job killers.”

In addition to NAM, the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute and the Chamber of Commerce joined in calling for a delay in the rules.

The new requirements — which counties would have to meet at different times over the next two decades, depending on pollution levels — have been the subject of controversy for years.

In March 2008, the Bush administration set the ozone standard at 75 parts per billion, significantly higher than the 60 to 70 ppb recommended by the EPA’s scientific advisory committee. In January 2010, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced that she would set the standard somewhere between 60 and 70 ppb and would probably finalize it that summer. But the EPA has delayed issuing the final rule as oil companies, manufacturers and utilities have pressed for more time.

Environmental and public health groups have launched a competing lobbying campaign, urging the White House to move ahead with tougher rules.

Monday night, the American Lung Association’s president and chief executive, Charles Connor, sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff William M. Daley saying the administration cannot afford to push the rule off by two more years, as the business groups are proposing. “To be plain, the delay being sought by the Business Roundtable and their allies means more Americans will get sick and more will die due to exposure of unhealthful levels air pollution,” Connor wrote.

According to the EPA, depending on what standard it adopts, the compliance costs for industry could range from $19 billion to $90 billion a year by 2020. The tougher standard would yield health benefits worth $13 billion to $100 billion, the agency said.

A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the proposal was not final, said by e-mail that the administration is seeking to minimize the regulations’ economic impact.

“This administration will continue to put in place smart standards that are based on science and the law, and at the same time the president has been clear that when it comes to implementing a standard we will do so in a way that maximizes flexibility to ensure it does not impede our economic recovery in any way,” the official said. “He believes that it is essential that considerations of cost and impacts on local communities and businesses are a fundamental part of proposals to meet the standard.”

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

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