Obama backs down over plans to impose cleaner air laws

Environmental campaigners accuse President of caving to big business

In a surprise move which risks consolidating the growing perception of him as a back-down, back-off leader, President Barack Obama announced yesterday he was giving up his plans to impose stricter air quality regulations for fear it would add to the country's economic and employment woes.

Waving the white flag to the business lobby and to Republicans who had vowed to make the new ozone rule a litmus-test issue in 2012, Mr Obama instructed the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, to scuttle impending regulations designed to tighten standards set by the Bush White House in 2008 that had been labelled too lax by many environmental scientists.

It came as employment data released yesterday showed job creation in the United States during August had essentially hit the buffers, further darkening the economic horizon. The grim results, which left the unemployment rate at 9.1 per cent, were far short of what Wall Street had expected.

In a letter to the House Speaker, John Boehner, earlier this week, Mr Obama conceded imposing the standards would have cost the economy between $19bn and $90bn. Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the House of Representatives, said it would also cost the country millions of jobs over ten years.

It appears Mr Obama saw himself in an impossible vice squeeze. While he has championed the environment, he also knows that the right was preparing to attack him for failing to respond to the joblessness crisis by lifting regulatory burdens and easing uncertainties for businesses.

He may also be calculating that his retreat, which is sure to weaken support inside his already disappointed liberal base, will help him win at least a hearing from Republicans when he unveils his long-promised blueprint for jobs creation in a rare address to a joint session of Congress next Thursday.

The reaction from the environmental lobby was predictably swift. "The Obama administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe," said Gene Karpinski, president of The League of Conservation Voters. "This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health."

It is also a humiliation for Ms Jackson at the EPA, who had taken the advice of her own scientists in setting a new ozone limit of between 60 and 70 parts per billion in a place of the 75ppb set by George W Bush. She nonetheless pointed to other achievements under President Obama, for instance on curbing carbon emissions from vehicles and cutting mercury pollution from power plants. "This administration has put in place some of the most important standards and safeguards for clean air in US history," she contended.

For his part, Mr Obama tried to pre-empt the criticism he knows he will face. "I will continue to stand with the hardworking men and women at the EPA as they strive every day to hold polluters accountable and protect our families from harmful pollution," he said.

But he stressed that in the end he had been guided by the prospect of another stall in the economy. "I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover," he added.

Politically, he may have stolen one of the sharpest arrows from the Republican quiver. Mr Cantor last week wrote that the standards change promised to be a "jobs killer" for the country. "This effective ban or restriction on construction and industrial growth for much of America is possibly the most harmful of all the currently anticipated Obama administration regulations," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence