Obama's policies on environment go on the back burner
Share with others:
WASHINGTON -- After pushing through some of the most sweeping and contentious environmental measures in years, the Obama administration has slowed action on several policies as it calculates what it should undertake before the end of the term.
Rules aimed at curbing emissions from cars and light trucks are on hold because the White House has yet to give the Office of Management and Budget the go-ahead to review them. And a proposal to regulate soot, ready last fall, will not be issued before June.
Several of the regulations hanging in the balance have broad support among not just environmentalists, but also key industries as well as hunters and anglers. But they could impose new costs on consumers and certain sectors of the economy, which has sparked opposition and complicated the administration's political calculus.
"Behind the scenes, [the Environmental Protection Agency] is pressing to get rules out before the administration pulls up the drawbridge and goes into campaign mode," said Joe Stanko, who heads government relations at the law firm Hunton & Williams. "It will be a battle to see how far down EPA's shopping list they get."
White House spokesman Clark Stevens wrote in an email that the administration would seek to balance economic and environmental considerations when deciding what regulations to issue in the coming year.
"The administration has a strong record of implementing smart, sensible steps that protect consumers, public health and the environment, informed by feedback from the public and industry and guided by the president's goal of supporting economic growth while protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink," Mr. Stevens wrote. "This includes historic fuel economy standards that will dramatically reduce oil consumption, slash vehicle emissions, all while saving American families thousands of dollars at the pump, as well as the first national standard for mercury emissions."
The fight over whether to propose a new federal fuel and vehicle program -- known as "Tier 3," because it's the third iteration of rules aimed at curbing emissions from cars and light trucks -- epitomizes the dilemma the administration faces. In late December, the EPA completed the package of proposed rules, which would slash the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline by two-thirds while imposing fleetwide pollution limits on new vehicles.
But because the rules must undergo an Office of Management and Budget review before being issued, and the White House has yet to grant the agency clearance to send the package over, it remains in regulatory limbo.
A broad group of auto companies, environmentalists, equipment manufacturers and state regulators supports it because it would curb air pollution and help cars run more efficiently at a modest cost. The National Association of Clean Air Agencies commissioned a study which estimated that the cleanup would cost less than a penny a gallon.
Automakers say the rule, which would lower the sulfur content of gas from 30 to 10 parts per million, will give them greater regulatory certainty by bringing federal standards in line with those of California.
But the American Petroleum Institute said it could force as many as seven U.S. refineries to close and boost gas prices 25 cents a gallon -- a point that presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker from Georgia, made during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" a week ago.
Mr. Obama, Mr. Gingrich said, "has an Environmental Protection Agency proposal that would raise the price of gasoline by 25 cents a gallon. There are very few Americans who want to see the price of gasoline raised by government [by] 25 cents a gallon."
EPA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara wrote in an email that the agency had received considerable feedback on several unfinished regulations, whether it was new vehicle and fuel standards or a proposal to classify the waste from coal combustion, known as coal ash, as a hazardous pollutant. The EPA, she wrote "is engaged in a deliberative and extensive process, reviewing hundreds of thousands of comments and engaging all stakeholders to ensure that any standards are both effective and scientifically and legally sound."
Paul Schmidt, chief conservation officer for Ducks Unlimited, was one of several conservation leaders who pressed senior administration officials at a White House meeting Jan. 30 to finalize guidance that would impose stricter pollution controls on millions of acres of wetlands and tens of thousands of miles of streams.
"They were sensitive to and supportive of our request, but they were non-committal," Mr. Schmidt said. "EPA has just been a political target. It's almost that they're weary of these attacks, and they don't want to issue a regulation that causes another headline."
First Published February 14, 2012 12:00 am