In its latest move to slow or delay new regulations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday indefinitely postponed standards aimed at reducing air pollution from power plants at chemical plants, smelters, refineries, paper mills and other industrial facilities.
Industry and some members of Congress had lobbied against the new rules covering boilers and certain solid waste incinerators, arguing they would cost billions of dollars and kill jobs at a time when the economy still finds itself on shaky ground. Opponents apparently received a receptive ear from a presidential administration embattled by the current political and economic climate.
"I think it's a pattern of behavior we've seen starting probably last fall, as the situation became more problematic for the Obama administration, and it accelerated after the election," said Jim Pew, an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental nonprofit that sued the government over the rules. In an article published Monday, the L.A. Times noted the EPA has also dragged its heels on regulations impacting coal ash disposal and mountaintop mining. At the same time, the administration announced plans last week to expand domestic land for oil and gas drilling.
But the battle over the boiler and incinerator rule stretches back more than a decade, years before President Obama took office. It was Earthjustice's successful suit against the EPA, on behalf of the Sierra Club, that prompted the agency to issue a more robust draft rule last year. Following heavy crticism from industry and legislators, the EPA requested a 16-month extension to alter the regulation; it was given only 30 days in January. The EPA signed the final, revised rule in February.
The revised rule was stayed, or postponed, on Monday, depriving it of all effect, Pew said. The EPA cited an executive order permitting the agency to mothball "burdensome regulation." One of its opponents, the National Association of Manufacturers, hailed the decision in a statement Tuesday.
"This is substantial progress, and we applaud its decision," NAM said. "We hope today’s announcement is an indication that the EPA understands the potentially devastating job impact of its regulatory agenda on manufacturing workers and the economy."
For Pew, the move runs counter to what many had expected of President Barack Obama when he took office. He noted the administration has put off other important rules that carry implications for public health, including ozone protections. According to EPA estimates, the boiler regulations would have prevented up to 6,500 premature deaths annually by 2014.
"It really does seem like they're suffering from a crisis, an identity crisis perhaps," Pew said, "or a crisis of will because this is a big step down from protecting public health."
EPA will now seek and review more public input through mid-July. The EPA had already received more than 4,800 comments on the rule after it was proposed in April 2010.
Image CC licensed by Flickr user boliston.