President Obama has used a bunch of sick kids with breathing problems as the backdrop for his latest exercise in executive empathy. After delaying several EPA anti-pollution rules (for purposes of his own re-election) that might have improved their lung function and prevented their hospitalizations in the first place, he's free at last to be airily concerned about the young asthmatics of America:
Hi, everybody. I’m here at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., visiting with some kids being treated here all the time for asthma and other breathing problems. Often, these illnesses are aggravated by air pollution – pollution from the same sources that release carbon and contribute to climate change. And for the sake of all our kids, we’ve got to do more to reduce it.How did his administration reduce sickness-causing pollution during his first term? By not doing much at all to reduce it. For the appeasement of such sociopaths as the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the American Petroleum Institute, the Obama White House delayed, for purely political purposes, more public health regulations than any prior administration. These included rules for coal ash disposal, mercury emissions, industrial boiler emissions, ozone levels, greenhouse gas pollution, silica dust in the workplace... and carbon emissions.
Moreover, agencies were specifically instructed to present no new anti-pollution rules until Obama was safely re-esconced in the Oval Office.
And now that he has only a couple of years to go in his legacy-burnishing campaign of caring for the lung capacity of Americans, he's belatedly all fired up about those fired-up coal plants spewing their toxins and messing up the climate:
But for the sake of our children, we have to do more.
This week, we will. Today, about 40% of America’s carbon pollution comes from power plants. But right now, there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe. None. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic that power plants put in our air and water. But they can dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air. It’s not smart, it’s not safe, and it doesn’t make sense.
That’s why, a year ago, I directed the Environmental Protection Agency to build on the efforts of many states, cities, and companies, and come up with commonsense guidelines for reducing dangerous carbon pollution from our power plants. This week, we’re unveiling these proposed guidelines, which will cut down on the carbon pollution, smog, and soot that threaten the health of the most vulnerable Americans, including children and the elderly. In just the first year that these standards go into effect, up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks will be avoided – and those numbers will go up from there.Of course, all those asthma attacks and heart attacks could have been avoided long ago if the Obama White House hadn't decided that personal political fortunes trumped human lives and well-being. When an American Lung Association pulmonologist told then-Chief of Staff William Daley in 2011 that the vast majority of Americans favored stronger rules for clean air, the multimillionaire ex- Morgan Stanley banker famously retorted, "Fuck the polls!"
Obama then decided that thousands of premature deaths and thousands of new cases of pediatric asthma were well worth another four years in the White House. From the New York Times story on the controversy:
The standard for ozone was last set in 2008 by the Bush administration at a level of 75 parts per billion, above the range of 60 to 70 recommended by the E.P.A.’s scientific advisory panel at the time, but never enacted. Environmental and public health groups challenged the Bush standard in court, saying it would endanger human health and had been tainted by political interference. Smog levels have declined sharply over the last 40 years, but each incremental improvement comes at a significant cost to business and government.
So Ms. (ex-EPA chief Lisa) Jackson asked health and environmental groups to hold their lawsuit in abeyance while she reconsidered the ozone standard, a job she expected to complete by the summer of 2010. Until then, an outdated ozone standard of 84 parts per billion, set by the E.P.A. of the Bill Clinton administration in 1997, remained the law.
And then industry leaders and potential donors made Obama an offer he couldn't refuse. He'd lose votes and big money contributions if he made wealthy Job Creators feel insecure. And thus, the battleground states of The Heartland took precedence over heart attacks. Regulatory Czar Cass Sunstein (another Obama Harvard crony) decided that smog alleviation wasn't worth the alleged political cost. While he quietly withdrew 11 other anti-pollution rules from enactment, Obama's own very vocal rejection of the ozone standards was done in a manner specifically designed to placate Republicans and the polluter lobby. It was during this time that the White House was still in full-bore, post-Debt Ceiling fake crisis austerity mode. Children's lungs were just going to have to serve as the scapegoat. The Obama people were pragmatically not going to let perfect pulmonary function be the enemy of their good:Delay followed delay until the spring of this year, when Ms. Jackson determined that the standard should be set at 65 parts per billion to meet the Clean Air Act’s requirement that it be protective of public health “with an adequate margin of safety.” At 65 parts per billion, the agency calculated, as many as 7,200 deaths, 11,000 emergency room visits and 38,000 acute cases of asthma would be avoided each year.
“There was always a notion that they were looking for a regulation to use as an example of the reform initiative, a poster child, and this was potentially it,” said a senior E.P.A. official who asked not to be identified on a matter involving discussions with the White House. “We knew one was coming. We just didn’t know which one.”And although Obama had blithely assured environmentalists and everybody interested in breathing that the ozone rules would be revisited in 2013, guess what happened once he was safely re-presiding in the Oval Office? The EPA has had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, back into court by clean air advocates over its failure to act and submit the new standards Obama had promised. From the Huffington Post:
A federal judge in Northern California has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency must produce new draft standards for ground-level ozone pollution, the main component of smog, by December.
Paul Cort, a lawyer with Earthjustice, said the group is excited about the ruling but "disappointed that it took all of this effort to get here." Earthjustice had filed the case on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, American Lung Association and Natural Resources Defense Council.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on Tuesday directed the EPA to issue its draft proposal by Dec. 1, 2014, and a final rule by Oct. 1, 2015.Needless to say, Obama did not tell the kids at the Medical Center and the thousands of other kids hooked up to their life-saving home nebulizers who might have been listening that they'll have to breathe filthy air for at least a couple more years.
To further add to the cringe factor, the Children's Medical Center at which Obama spoke is located smack dab in the middle of the fourth smoggiest city in the nation. But at least he had the decency to close his bedside pediatric chats to the press. There are still some limits to presidential pandering and exploitation, after all.
And blithely ignoring the fact that his vaunted EPA is now reduced to defending itself against gross ineptitude in a court of law, Obama gushed:
That’s why, a year ago, I directed the Environmental Protection Agency to build on the efforts of many states, cities, and companies, and come up with commonsense guidelines for reducing dangerous carbon pollution from our power plants. This week, we’re unveiling these proposed guidelines, which will cut down on the carbon pollution, smog, and soot that threaten the health of the most vulnerable Americans, including children and the elderly. In just the first year that these standards go into effect, up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks will be avoided – and those numbers will go up from there.Notice the careful parsing. He directed the EPA, with a wink and a nod, to cooperate with "companies" (i.e., sociopathic plutocrats) to come up with "common-sense" (i.e., weak) guidelines. This week he will roll out, with great self-serving fanfare, some "proposals" (as opposed to direct orders) to reduce morbidity and mortality.... someday.
These standards were created in an open and transparent way, with input from the business community. States and local governments weighed in, too. In fact, nearly a dozen states are already implementing their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution. And over 1,000 mayors have signed agreements to cut their cities’ carbon pollution. So the idea of setting higher standards to cut pollution at our power plants is not new. It’s just time for Washington to catch up with the rest of the country.The Business Community sure gave him input in an open and transparent way, back in 2011! And hooray for the market-based solutions. If folks can figure out a way to make a ton of dough by pretending to do right by the Breathing faction, then it's all cool. And yes, it is long past time for Washington (Barack Obama) to catch up with himself. The legacy is beckoning. The planet is heating up. The children are gasping.
Now, special interests and their allies in Congress will claim that these guidelines will kill jobs and crush the economy. Let's face it, that’s what they always say.
But every time America has set clear rules and better standards for our air, our water, and our children’s health – the warnings of the cynics have been wrong. They warned that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain poisoning our lakes, would kill business. It didn’t. Our air got cleaner, acid rain was cut dramatically, and our economy kept growing.Hmm. Back in 2011, the Obama Administration itself had agreed that environmental guidelines would kill jobs and crush the economy. And, let's face it, crush Obama's hopes. Oh well.... at least he is finally obliquely admitting that he was a cynic, and that he was wrong. And even though Washington D.C. is the fourth smoggiest city in America, it is also the richest metropolitan area in America.... thanks in large part to the lucrative permanent media-political complex, the NSA and the Pentagon, and polluters' lobbying industry. The wealth of the richest One Percent does indeed keep growing. And growing. And growing. Like a malignant tumor that dies right along with the host.
As I wrote back in that glittery era of deficit hysteria and belt-tightening -- Tighten Up Your Bronchioles: You're in the O-Zone:
As expected, President Obama has caved to his CEO buddies, and big business "job creators", and his boss John Boehner, and canned the EPA's new clean air standards. Demanding respiratory health in an economic recession is just asking too much of the corporation persons, said the president in a Friday news dump.
I guess Malia and Sasha don't have asthma. They don't live in inner cities, where substandard housing, mold and pollution are major contributors in raising the childhood asthma rate to historic levels. The EPA estimates that without the tough new pollution standards that are now shelved, thousands more people will die of asthma attacks and exacerbation of respiratory diseases every year. Emergency room visits will skyrocket. American morbidity and mortality rates will rise even further up the list of most unhealthy third world countries. Global warming is making pollution worse.The 2014 version of Obama seems to have conveniently developed a memory deficit. His concern-trolling weekly address continues,
In America, we don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children. The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technology to break the old rules.
As President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. America will build that engine. America will build the future. A future that’s cleaner, more prosperous, and full of good jobs – a future where we can look our kids in the eye and tell them we did our part to leave them a safer, more stable world.In America, the ruling class has already made its choice. Money does indeed trump the health of ordinary people. And when the planet heats up and the oceans die and Sasha and Malia develop premature COPD, Daddy can always cynically look them in the eye and say at least he tried to give the appearance of trying.
Update, June 2: The New York Times has the official EPA announcement on carbon emissions reduction here. It's purely aspirational at this point.(no executive order from Obama on coal plants, in other words.) The year 2015 seems to be the go-to year for these reports, seeing how it's an off-election year. And the plan is flexible, so as to show due deference to the energy industry. And, it is guaranteed to unleash a torrent of polluted bribery cash the likes of which the fourth most polluted city in the nation probably has not yet seen. May sane and honest minds prevail.