Saturday, September 03, 2011

“This had nothing to do with politics, nothing at all”

John Mikhail

So says an unnamed White House official in today's Washington Post, referring to Friday’s decision to scrap a safer ozone standard that would have required states and local communities to reduce air pollution or face federal penalties.

Back in the real world, the editors of The Wall St. Journal appear downright giddy at the demise of the proposed rule, issued by EPA in January 2010 and subsequently targeted by Congressional Republicans and lobbyists for the energy sector. A “startling and welcome decision,” the editors observe, which came about because “someone on the re-election side of Mr. Obama’s universe must have taken a closer look” at the political consequences of the proposed rule.

My colleague Lisa Heinzerling, who recently returned to Georgetown after serving as the head of EPA’s Office of Policy, has a powerful criticism of the President’s announcement here. In addition to objecting to the decision on legal, scientific, and economic grounds, she calls on the White House to make public the EPA’s explanation of its own standard. An excerpt:

When rules like the ozone NAAQS go to the White House for review, they are accompanied by a detailed explanation of the agency's reasons for deciding the way it did; this is the document that, if the White House clears the rule, will appear in the Federal Register as the agency's explanation for its rule. The ozone NAAQS was sent to the White House for review in July. Thus there exists a full package from EPA containing the final rule and the explanation for it. The least the White House can do at this point is to release that package. Let the public know what EPA concluded in its final package about the harmful effects of ozone pollution. Let states and local governments take that information and decide whether to strengthen their own pollution standards in light of what EPA has found. Let citizens decide what actions to take in light of that evidence. As President Obama explained when he issued a memorandum directing agencies to adopt a presumption of disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act: "Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve." It is hard to see a public-regarding reason for not disclosing the EPA's explanation of the science on ozone and the public's health.

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