President Obama: We Can’t Hold Our Breath for Two Years

BY ON September 7, 2011

 Katy FarberOh, the disappointment. I mean, I don’t like redoing things either. I get it. You didn’t want to ask cities and towns to do something, and then do it again a few years later.

In case you missed it, President Obama announced Friday that he had asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to withdraw the final National Ambient Air Quality Standard (known as a “NAAQS”) for ozone pollution, which she and her agency had sent to the White House for review.

You’re talking to someone who does not like turning around on the highway for anything. The idea of going backwards, away from the end goal, for me is painful. Just ask my husband. When traveling down a lonesome road in Alaska, I didn’t want to turn around at a restaurant, which ended up being the last food for miles. And miles. (Not that I heard much about it afterwards.)

So I really get it.

But the trouble is, this isn’t a highway stop. The new smog regulations outlined by the EPA are supported by sound science (as if anyone cares about that these days). In fact, our supposedly science supporting president is acting just like its anti-science predecessor, George Bush about these air quality standards. In an article about the smog decision, Grist author Lisa Heinserling said,

“It is hard to see how President Obama’s decision today reflects an attitude toward science that is any more respectful than the attitude the Bush administration displayed in its 2008 ozone standard.”

Keith Oberman’s commentary on the subject shows us how this issue is different. We can’t just hold our breath for two years. This isn’t simply turning around on the highway. Vulnerable people: our seniors, our children, and the sick – are profoundly affected by ozone, or smog, in America’s cities.

Smog has been shown to contribute to premature death, lung problems such as bronchitis and asthma, and heart attacks.

“The EPA had projected that the range it proposed would have saved an estimated 1,500 to 12,000 lives per year. The EPA also had said that the stricter ozone rule would have prevented thousands of cases of respiratory infections, asthma attacks and cases of bronchitis. The agency had said that smog was responsible for tens of thousands of emergency room visits per year.”

I ask if this human suffering and premature death is worth a compromise with corporate polluters and big business interests? I ask if the many parents out there, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, do you think our most vulnerable should have to face more ailments, and more chance of premature death, to ease perceived pressure on the economy?

The threats to the economy from these standards have been exaggerated, according to the EPA and environmental groups. It seems we need to back up and look at the big picture. The EPA’s own studies show that the new ozone standards would save 100 billion dollars in health care costs. That number is nothing to sneeze at but for some reason it isn’t part of President Obama’s decision making.

According to Friends of the Earth director David Hirsch, and quoting from the above linked MSNBC article:

“His decision will mean more children suffering from asthma and more permanent lung damage for adults.”Adding insult to injury,” Hirsch said, “President Obama claimed that asking corporations to act responsibly is too much of a ‘burden’ for them, ignoring the fact that studies show responsible environmental protections spur investment in clean technology and create jobs.”

Indeed, this decision takes us a step back from looking at the big picture. Don’t we realize now that a fast food burger “costs” more than $1.99? The invisible costs: to the environment, to animals, to workers, our waistlines, and health risks, float above fast food. Why can’t President Obama see that corporate responsibility is just that, responsibility, to the people of this country that sustain them? If corporations are indeed to be treated as people, can they act with humanity and a collective vision to help people, especially our most vulnerable?

Ask any parent of a child with asthma, or another chronic health condition, if the trade off is worth it. Or, if we should just wait another two years to begin saving lives and reducing harm from smog. Ask any senior citizen who has to stay inside because of the high ozone if they think we should wait.

When it comes to human health, to our collective humanity, there is no compromise. Please, President Obama, this time, it’s different. Turn the car around.


TOPICS: Asthma, Politics, Pollution

  • I like that you confronted Obama with his own car metaphor. You may remember that during the mid-term elections he talked about the Republicans driving the car into a ditch, then stood by the side of the road drinking slurpees while the Democrats dug it out, and now they want the keys back.

    Well, let’s hope the Republicans don’t get the keys to the car again because things will get much worse. But we don’t have to accept sloppy seconds from Obama either. I don’t know why Obama is listening to the lobbyists rather than voters. I do know that the only way to get anything is to be loud and organized.

    I think Mom’s Clean Air Force is doing a great job of getting the word out. Do you have a cheat sheet with some quick data points about the impacts of this decision? It would be great to have a few handy facts when writing to our representatives in Washington or if we have a chance to speak up at town meetings.

  • Dominique Browning

    Thanks Judith, excellent idea to create a fact sheet. Obama is delaying action to reduce ozone pollution that threatens millions of Americans and contributes to as many as 12,000 premature deaths every year.

    This decision leaves in place outdated, Bush-era standards that lag far behind what scientists have unanimously recommended and will result in more than 45,000 cases of aggravated asthma and over 1.5 million missed work or school days per year.

    Millions of children and adults with respiratory illnesses like asthma are particularly vulnerable to elevated levels of ozone pollution.