- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2011


President Obama has finally acknowledged what most Americans already know: Big government carries a price. That’s the take-away from the not-so-coincidental White House decision Friday to delay imposing yet more “environmental” red tape on business. That same day, the Labor Department announced there was no net growth in jobs for the first time since World War II.

If the president’s new-found cost-consciousness were genuine, he would go a step further in his address to Congress Thursday and urge lawmakers to amend the Clean Air Act to relieve the burden on job creators - but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s repeated delays in releasing proposed restrictions on ozone emissions during the summer raised speculation that the White House was getting queasy over EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s rule-happy tenure as the U.S. economy remained mired in quicksand, especially with an election on the horizon. Sure enough, Mr. Obama’s statement on Friday signaled his intention to curtail the zealotry: “I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.”

In a letter to Ms. Jackson explaining the president’s order, White House regulatory czar Cass R. Sunstein noted a provision of the Clean Air Act that forbids “EPA to consider costs in deciding on the stringency of national ambient air quality standards … .” Therein lies the act’s flaw: It empowers the EPA to carry out its power grab irrespective of cost. In the long run, EPA regulation will trump White House political calculation.

Legal challenge has so far failed to shorten the act’s onerous overreach. In Whitman v. American Trucking Association, industry questioned whether then-EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman could set air-quality standards without regard to cost. In 2001, the Supreme Court affirmed that the law as written prohibits cost considerations in issuing air-quality rules. Ever since, the EPA has been on a regulatory rampage, free to put its boot on the neck of every business in the nation and all the while telling Americans it’s for their own good. In March, the agency released a preposterous study positing that in 2020 alone, the Clean Air Act would prevent 230,000 premature deaths and save $2 trillion while costing only $65 billion to implement.

Business groups countered that the EPA’s ozone rules would have massive costs as red tape strangled opportunities for commerce. The Manufacturers Alliance put the true compliance costs at $1 trillion and 7 million jobs lost by 2020. Even a blinkered Obama White House could see that EPA’s sunny statistics looked dodgy amid the pervasive economic gloom.

Cost of compliance may not have been a great concern when the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 but it certainly is now. With the nation more than $14.7 trillion in debt, unemployment stuck at 9.1 percent and businesses unable to net any new jobs last month, it’s clearly time to restructure the law to require that affordability be factored in to new air-quality rules.

Despite his order to halt the EPA’s ozone restrictions, it’s probably wishful thinking to believe Mr. Obama would ever back a move to holster his most powerful regulatory weapon. If he fails to act, Congress ought to do it for him.

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