When she proposed stricter national standards for smog in September, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson thought she would have President Barack Obama’s support. Upset with the current doctrine, her plan for governing the ozone was pricier than the current program, but she believed the costs were offset by the health benefits. As the administrator of the EPA, she felt it was the government’s duty to place public priority over politics and collective health over profit. The EPA validated it; the scientific community backed it. But in the end, President Obama did not.
In a way, it is fitting. The decision reinforced the precedence of industry over the environment. Despite visible deterioration and substantial reductions in public health, motions for change usually end up where they started. It’s as if the Obama Administration has a personal vendetta against the environmentalist, with the President’s Chief of Staff, William Daley, as the main conspirator.
Their attitude would be perfectly acceptable if there were some sort of logical reasoning behind it. If reducing the American petroleum industry’s waste allowance led to leaps in the country’s net chocolate consumption, it goes without saying that most Americans would understand the administration’s decision. Or if because of a reevaluation of the nation’s smog allowances, the black bear population of Shenandoah Park began to rival the mockingbirds, science advisers of the nation’s leading universities would probably lay off their protect the environment rhetoric. These are the kinds of fears that make sense to the American public — in line with sharks, high heels and escalators.
When asked why they chose to decline one of the year’s most significant public health documents, the White House turned to the economy. Too many jobs were linked to carbon dioxide emissions and sky blackening, and it wouldn’t have made sense to cut them.
Before concluding, they reassured questioners that new studies elaborating on current states of decay would replace the old studies in two years’ time. Daley was confident that any changes before then would be premature.
Unfortunately, these justifications are only political. The amount of money supplied by lobbyist groups is just enough to delay major reform in how they do business. It wouldn’t be fair to say that these groups are paying for the passage of their corporate practices, but they are almost certainly “investing” in future governmental compliance. It’s understood that the president’s primary goal is reelection, but this goal shouldn’t get in the way of the obvious danger.
What results is an embarrassment for all parties involved: the EPA for their thorough investment, our president for the instability of his word and the country for falling victim to politics over public safety. The biggest loser has been Jackson, whose only fault was believing in the officials who had assured her of their cooperation. She’ll have plenty of chances in the future, but, if nothing else, the cards are now on the table. She’s seen the difficulties behind balancing the White House in one hand and greenhouse gases in the other.
Bryan Washington is a sociology freshman and may be reached at [email protected]