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Despite Bad Ozone Decision, Bill Daley Oversaw Some Public Health Progress

by Daniel J. Weiss

On Monday, President Obama surprisingly announced that Chief of Staff Bill Daley would depart the White House at the end of January. Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew would replace him as chief of staff — one of the most powerful positions in government.

Some environmentalists were jubilant over Daley’s parting. He was chief of staff during a tumultuous year when the Administration finalized and proposed many critical public health and environmental protection measures that will benefit Americans for years to come.

The derision directed towards Daley is primarily due to President Obama’s decision to reject the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to follow scientists’ recommendation to modernize the ozone smog health standard. Daley immersed himself in this decision, meeting with both industry opponents of a more protective standard as well as public health and environmental proponents. Press reports indicate that he played a major role in blocking this vital safeguard. Relying on the existing standard instead would allow 12,000 deaths annually.

The day of the decision, I told the New York Times that:

“Today’s announcement from the White House that they will retreat from implementing the much-needed — and long-overdue — ozone pollution standard is deeply disappointing and grants an item on Big Oil’s wish list at the expense of the health of children, seniors and the infirm.”

There is, however, a lot more to the Administration’s public health and environmental record under Bill Daley than this bad decision. In fact, the Administration finalized or proposed many critical safeguards over the past year. This is just a partial of list of the public health and environmental protection accomplishments on his watch.

  • Final rules that require cement kilns to reduce their mercury and other toxic air pollution, which would prevent 2,500 deaths annually. They could provide up to $19 in health benefits for $1 in clean-up costs.
  • Final rules to prevent power plants in upwind states from polluting downwind states (called the “Cross State Air Pollution Rule”). These safeguards will reduce power plants’ emission of acid rain and smog pollutants, saving 34,000 lives annually.
  • Final rules to reduce mercury, arsenic, and other toxic pollution from power plants, which would prevent 11,000 deaths annually, provide up to $90 billion annually in health benefits, while creating 1.5 million jobs over five years together with the Cross State Air Pollution Rule.
  • Proposed rules to modernize fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks built from 2017 to 2025. This would reduce U.S. oil use by 2.2 million barrels of oil per day, representing net savings to the average new car owner of up to $4,000 in lower gasoline purchases. The new standards would also reduce carbon dioxide pollution by 2 billion metric tons over the life of these vehicles. The rules should go final by March 31, 2012.
  • Resisted over a dozen anti-environmental “riders” (subs. reqd) added to the House version of the Fiscal Year 2011 spending bill that would have derailed these accomplishments as well as other important public health and environmental safeguards. White House and Senate opposition force House Republicans to drop nearly all of them from the final bill.
  • TransCanada agreed to move the Keystone XL pipeline away from Nebraska’s fragile Sand Hills and vital Ogallala Aquifer. The administration delayed any decision on permitting the pipeline until there is thorough analysis of a new route’s impact on air and water pollution.
  • On Monday, the Department of Interior protected one million acres adjacent to the Grand Canyon to prevent uranium mining from contaminating the Colorado River.

These and other protections were vehemently opposed by Big Oil, dirty utilities, and other polluting interests with their congressional allies. They used the struggling economy as an excuse to eliminate or delay these and other protections. Despite this pressure during the worst economy in eighty years, the Administration made real and significant progress under Daley’s steering.

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We expect Daley’s successor Lew to continue to support efforts to protect public health and the environment. He will have the opportunity to finalize the advanced clean car standards, propose and finalize carbon dioxide pollution reductions for power plants and oil refineries, final reductions in toxic air pollution from industrial boilers, reject the Keystone permit, and enforce the safeguards adopted under Daley’s tenure.

Daniel J. Weiss is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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