I think President Obama is a smart, decent and even great man. But you know what? He's really driving me crazy right now.
Last week, the president pulled back on new EPA rules that would have clamped down on ground level ozone pollution, responsible for aggravating respiratory illness among millions of Americans. Years in the making, the rules were backed by science and set to go at the signature of the president. And then he suddenly reversed course and stopped them in their tracks.
The reason he gave is the worst part of the story.
Obama said that with the economy teetering on the brink of a new recession, he didn't want to do anything that would make matters worse. With those words the president unintentionally gave more credence to the big lie that's been told about environmental and safety regulations for decades. Every time a new environmental standard is proposed, industry howls that it will be a job killer. And every time we follow through anyway, what actually happens is that industry uses its expertise and know-how to find a way to comply, our environment improves and our economy becomes more secure.
You cannot link a single recession to environmental regulations. In fact, polluting industrial practices are unsustainable in the long run because as Gaylord Nelson said, "the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around."
The president also said that he didn't want to burden local governments with meeting the new standards. But as mayor I would have welcomed the tougher rules. One reason is that if Dane County had fallen into noncompliance, it might have made us eligible for federal CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality) funds. We could have used these to do even more innovative things in the area of alternative transportation. And it wouldn't likely have touched our industrial sector, since Dane County relies so little on smoke stack industries.
Finally, as a political matter this is nothing but a loser for the president. Republicans in Congress will give him no credit for the decision, and, in fact, it will only embolden them to go even harder at other progressive policies. Meanwhile, his environmental base is alienated and less inclined to pitch in strongly for his reelection. And among independents it underscores his growing image as a leader who doesn't stick to his guns.
Sometimes, Mr. President, you just have to stand and fight.