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09.14.11

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Phaedra

No, We Can't

Obama refutes air quality science, keeps Bush standards intact

By Juliane Poirier


It may have been prescience that made me peel off my one and only bumper sticker before Labor Day weekend.

If unpopular policy announcements from Washington are made on Fridays, when everyone is thinking about the weekend, and if really unwelcome policy news is released just before a three-day weekend, then Michael Halpern is correct: by waiting until the Friday before Labor Day to make the announcement, the Obama administration was attempting to bury the news that smog standards would not, after all, be raised to where they should be.

When scientists determined five years ago that ground-level ozone pollution standards should not exceed 60 to 70 parts per billion, Bush set them at 75 ppb. And there they stay now, thanks to President Obama. Halpern, representing the Union of Concerned Scientists, pointed out in an article posted Sept. 2 that the Obama administration wanted Americans to miss the news "that [this administration] is going back on its commitment to create a science-based pollution standard for ground-level ozone—a primary component of smog."

According to Halpern, this science-ignoring decision on the part of the administration has "profound public health consequences, and represents a departure from the president's pledge in his inaugural address to 'restore science to its rightful place.'"

Science—evidently not restored to its rightful place—has long shown data linking ozone pollution to death and illness. We are all at risk, but children are most vulnerable. Adults whose DNA predisposes them to sensitivity to ozone are more susceptible, along with those who breathe hard and deeply during outdoor workouts and those with respiratory illnesses (some of which are caused by air pollution).

When policy impacts life or death among citizens, politicians do wish to keep it under the radar. But in this case they failed. As a Sept. 6 NewsWorks post by Dick Polman summarized, "There's no way you can bury a policy punt that makes Barack Obama look like George W. Bush."

Obama's decision on ground-level ozone pollution standards mirrors the Bush approach to environmental protection (although so far there's no evidence that Obama has yet stooped quite as low as Bush did—to dismantle the EPA data library or alter EPA documents to suit pro-industry agendas). Obama is in effect upholding the planet-harming ways of the former administration, the very anti-environmental administration I personally worked very hard to remove from office.

Sadly, I'm as proud now to have removed my Obama bumper sticker as I was once proud to have driven around with it on my car—the vehicle is still emitting too much ozone pollution.


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