- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2011

A slew of White House retreats on environmental issues has “green” voters seeing red - and threatening political consequences for President Obama in next year’s election.

For most of his administration, Mr. Obama has aggressively supported clean-energy tax credits and last month announced the first fuel-efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks.

The president, however, may have reversed support among environmentalists with other recent moves - particularly his decision announced Friday to abandon tougher air-quality rules.

“We’re paying attention, and the president needs to know that putting thousands of American lives needlessly at risk is a serious political miscalculation,” Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford blogged after the announcement.

Scores of activists have been arrested outside the White House in the past week as they protested the proposed Keystone XL pipeline extension, which the administration has concluded would have a negligible impact on the environment.

The XL pipeline decision, combined with Mr. Obama’s order for the Environmental Protection Agency to back off from tougher ozone restrictions under the Clean Air Act, has environmentalists concerned that the president is caving in to criticism from business advocates who contend that federal overregulation is holding back economic growth.

The president insisted that his commitment to protecting public health is “unwavering,” and White House officials said the action - which the business community readily welcomed - had nothing to do with industry pressure.

“I will continue to stand with the hardworking men and women at the EPA as they strive every day to hold polluters accountable and protect our families from harmful pollution,” Mr. Obama said in a statement, pledging to thwart any attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act.

His words weren’t enough for environmental groups.

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, accused Mr. Obama of “siding with corporate polluters over the American people.”

“The Clean Air Act clearly requires the Environmental Protection Agency to set protective standards against smog - based on science and the law,” Ms. Beinecke said. “The White House now has polluted that process with politics.”

The Obama administration previously said that the ozone standard of 75 parts per billion, set by the Bush administration in 2008, was based on outdated science. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson had pushed for a tougher standard ahead of the regularly scheduled five-year review in 2013.

Environmentalists say the administration is risking the health of Americans by scrapping that effort. Pointing to the EPA’s own data, the NRDC said a stricter ozone standard of 70 parts per billion would result in 4,300 fewer premature deaths and 2,200 fewer heart attacks annually by 2020.

“This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

The abandoned rules to increase air quality mark the latest disappointment for environmental activists who helped propel Mr. Obama to victory in 2008.

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