The outgoing White House regulations chief circulated industry attacks on proposed smog standards among high-level advisers to President Obama, emails released to The Hill through a FOIA request show.
Cass Sunstein, the regulatory official, ensured that White House aides including Nancy-Ann DeParle and Heather Zichal were made aware of powerful business groups’ concerns with plans to tighten ozone standards, a proposal that was subsequently put on ice. The debate consumed parts of the administration in 2011.
Records obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request also show efforts by lobbyists to appeal to White House officials on other rules, providing a window onto how industry groups sought to press their case with senior aides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The ozone standards delay represents one of the biggest regulatory failures of the past few years, with the White House clearly siding with industry over their own Environmental Protection Agency, which considered the update of the standards vital to public health. Subsequently, the Administration did move forward on mercury and air toxics standards, soot pollution standards as well as greenhouse gas emissions standards that will damage the ability to produce coal in America. But the ozone punt was really unforgivable, especially given the context:
Basically, what happened is that the Bush Administration dragged its feet on new national ozone standards for years. Under the law, there must be a five-year review. EPA’s review of the science in 2006 showed that the current standards, set in 1997, were woefully inadequate. The Bush Administration countered with a new rule in 2008 that was well below the recommendation from EPA scientists.
Groups such as the American Lung Association quickly filed a lawsuit to stop the Bush rules, which they claimed were too weak and would lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths and cases of respiratory disease. However, when Obama came into office, the new EPA said it basically agreed with the critics and would issue revised rules by August 2010. At that point, the ALA agreed to hold off on its lawsuit. But August 2010 rolled around. Still no rules. Then October. Then November. Still nothing. Then the EPA said it wanted to go back and look at the science again, just to double-check. Sure enough, EPA’s scientific review board said that 60 to 70 parts per billion was the way to go. And EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the final rules would be more or less in line with the science [...]
So now, today, the White House announced that it’s not going to have any new rules. On a call with reporters, White House officials argued that it doesn’t make sense to put out new rules in 2011 when there’s going to be another scheduled review of the ozone science in 2013.
(This is untrue by the way, if EPA set the standards in 2011, there wouldn’t be another review until 2016.)
So they got the environmental and public health groups to back off for two years, and then dropped this bombshell. Green groups have now resumed their lawsuit.
And now we have a good look at the reasons why. Basically, then-Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Cass Sunstein met with a bunch of oil and chemical lobbyists, Sunstein sent around objections to the rule from the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable, and even quotes from House Republicans opposed to the standards, and all that was enough to make the case for delay. Lucky for the White House, Cass Sunstein was hyping business community attacks to help them make their decision.
In addition to passing around oil industry talking points inside the White House, Sunstein also forwarded along more obscure industry talking points:
Beyond EPA, other agencies grabbed the attention of Sunstein, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has proposed to strengthen protections against silica.
Brian Slobodow, then-CEO of the U.S. Silica Co., wrote a July 2011 letter to Sunstein urging him “to return the proposal to OSHA for further evaluation of risks, benefits and costs.”
In a subsequent email, Sunstein forwarded the letter onto DeParle, Lane and senior aide Chris Lu, saying, “Worth a look.”
OIRA, Sunstein’s office, has held up the silica regulation for a year.
I don’t expect this to go away once Sunstein leaves, but, and this is important, I expect Sunstein to go away. Thank the Lord for small favors.