- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2011

In a twist, business leaders who had been critical of the Obama administration praised the president last week for choosing the economy over the environment in back-to-back moves.

Top business groups said they were surprised when President Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to halt work on proposed rules to tighten environmental air quality standards. Opponents had argued it would hinder an already fragile economy at a time when job growth is slowing.

They are also encouraged by a State Department’s report last week on the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline that increases the likelihood the U.S. government will back the project through the nation’s midsection to transport oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas.

Mr. Obama’s decision to stop an EPA effort to draft new, stricter air pollution standards “is an enormous victory for America’s job creators, the right decision by the president, and one that will help reduce the uncertainty facing businesses,” Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

Mr. Obama announced his move in a statement Friday, citing in part the uncertainty this was causing for an already shaky economy. The practical result is that the current ozone rules set by the George W. Bush administration, which green groups have condemned as inadequate, will remain in place at least through 2013.

Businesses warned that the new rules could have cost them between $19 billion and $90 billion each year to comply with, and resulted in stunted job growth. Congressional Republicans had also been taking direct aim at what they called job-killing regulations being eyed by the Obama administration.

“The president’s decision is good news for the economy and Americans looking for work,” API President and CEO Jack Gerard said. “EPA’s proposal would have prevented the very job creation that President Obama has identified as his top priority.”

But some business groups said Mr. Obama could do more. For starters, said Workforce Fairness Institute spokesman Fred Wszolek, business groups would like to see the president tackle concerns with the National Labor Relations Board.

The NLRB has been criticized for its pro-labor tilt and for a controversial effort to force Boeing Co., the world’s largest aerospace manufacturer, to shutter a major new plant in South Carolina over alleged labor law violations.

“I hope they won’t just stop here,” Mr. Wszolek said. “I hope they’ll shut down the whole job-killing machine.”

But he added the president’s recent decisions, which are likely to upset his base of supporters in the environmental community, could be politically motivated. With job numbers down and the unemployment stuck above 9 percent, the White House might be looking to ease up on business to push the economy forward.

“There may be a sense of panic in the White House,” Mr. Wszolek said.