Editorial: Obama sacrifices enviro cred

So much for President Obama’s environmental cred. His decision to table adoption of a more stringent federal ozone standard was a huge disappointment, especially coming from a president who made green jobs, conservation and clean energy cornerstones of his campaign.

We recognize that meeting tougher standards would have been a challenge for many cities and counties.

Even San Luis Obispo County, which has relatively clean air, has remote areas of the county that are occasionally out of compliance with existing standards — partly because of the dirty air wafting over from more industrialized counties.

However, when EPA’s scientific advisers say current standards are dangerously low, and when the American Lung Association is prepared to go to court to force tougher regulations, we believe it’s time to put public health first.

Consider what Dr. Albert A. Rizzo, the national volunteer chair of the American Lung Association, had to say: “A new smog standard would have saved lives and resulted in fewer people getting sick.”

In California, the change also would have leveled the playing field; the state’s standard for ozone is set at 70 parts per billion, while the federal standard is 75 parts per billion.

The Environmental Protection Agency was considering lowering the standard to between 60 and 70 parts per billion.

Now, any change will have to wait until 2013, when air quality legislation is next scheduled for review.

All because Obama claims this is not the right time for tougher air standards. It would be too much of a burden on businesses trying to recover from the recession, he believes, as well as on local governments that would have to develop plans to meet those standards.

Yet implementation of a tougher ozone standard would not occur overnight. Air pollution control officials say it would take at least three to four years to identify those areas that are out of compliance and to develop local plans to improve air quality.

In other words, businesses would have plenty of time to prepare for any changes coming down the pike.

No, the real timing problem was the 2012 election, and the drubbing that Obama would have taken from Republicans who say more stringent ozone standards would cost billions of dollars — estimates were as high as $90 billion — and thousands more jobs.

Never mind that health officials estimate that as much as $100 billion could be saved in medical costs if standards were tightened.

And never mind that some jobs just might be created if aging factories and power plants were required to do clean-air retrofits.

Instead, Obama tacked to the right, once again, to avoid Republican criticism.

But at what cost?

Now, he risks losing the respect — and the support — of those who looked to him to do the right thing by protecting public health and the environment.

That’s too high a price to pay.