The Politics Of Smog

Posted by | November 17, 2011 21:43 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

When the Obama administration announced the withdrawal of the EPA smog standards, I wrote that it was clear that this was a decision that came from the top.  Today the New York Times agreed.

The half-hour meeting in the Oval Office was not a negotiation; the president had decided against ratcheting up the ozone rule because of the cost and the uncertainty it would impose on industry and local governments. He clearly understood the scientific, legal and political implications. He told Ms. Jackson that she would have an opportunity to revisit the Clean Air Act standard in 2013 — if they were still in office. We are just not going to do this now, he said.

The White House announced the decision the next morning, infuriating environmental and public health advocates. They called it a bald surrender to business pressure, an act of political pandering and, most galling, a cold-blooded betrayal of a loyal constituency.

I get criticizing the decision on policy grounds (though I’m not sure I agree).  What I don’t get is the seeming shock and approbation (even on the right — “oh he’s just making a political decision”) for making this decision based on politics.  If the president feels that his reelection chances are better with a decision favoring business (or one favoring environmentalists as in the case of this week’s decision to stop work on the Keystone XL pipeline) then the system is working.  Regulatory decisions are made largely by the executive branch.  The worst decisions are the ones unaffected by politics (check out what happens between Election Day and the inauguration of the next president, so called midnight rules) not the ones where politics plays a role.

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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