DENVER—The Environmental Protection Agency released tougher proposed standards on soot emissions Friday, smudging what was otherwise a feel-good week for the Obama administration in must-win Colorado.
The draft regulations, which would decrease the annual allowable fine particle pollution from 15 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 to 13 micrograms, immediately came under fire from industry officials, who argue that the revisions will require companies to invest in costly upgrades in order to achieve negligible benefits.
In fact, the Obama administration had wanted to delay the release the proposed soot standards until 2013, after the election, to allow more time for study. Instead, a federal court ordered the EPA to issue the revisions after 11 states and the American Lung Association challenged the delay in court.
House Republicans, who had argued that the EPA should retain its current standards on soot emissions, warned that the proposed revisions would result in job losses, fueling the Republican election-year theme that blames excessive federal regulation for crippling economic growth.
“I think the sense is that Obama’s vulnerability is on the issue of the regulatory climate, so I doubt very much he was dying to see the EPA throw out another regulation,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli. “Obviously the environmental community is going to like this, but you also see [Mitt]Romney going after this issue.”
The EPA announcement came as a lump of coal in what was planned as a Christmas-in-June day for the White House in a crucial swing state. Earlier Friday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that 90,000 acres of private land would be set aside as a conservation area in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The land, which is being donated by New York billionaire hedge-fund manager Louis Bacon, represents the largest conservation easement ever donated to the Fish and Wildlife Service, said Salazar at a press conference near the site in the San Luis Valley.
“Thanks to Louis Bacon’s deep commitment to conservation, we will now be able to preserve a diverse mosaic of public and private lands, creating a landscape corridor for fish and wildlife unlike any place in America,” said Salazar.
The previous day, Salazar announced that 56 Colorado rural communities would divvy up $27.7 million in stimulus funding for public safety, housing, transportation and social services. The payments are intended to compensate local governments with non-taxable federal land their jurisdictions.
“Too often, rural communities have been forgotten by the policies of Washington, D.C., but President Obama has made job creation and opportunity in rural areas a top priority for his Administration,” said Salazar in his Thursday announcement.
Analysts said Salazar’s swing through Colorado, which also included a visit to the High Park fire scene, indicates the Obama administration plans to use old-fashioned pork as part of its election-year strategy.
“That’s traditional pork barrel for a constituency in a state that’s absolutely critical for his reelection,” said Ciruli. “And we can expect to see more.”
Coloradans can also expect to see more of Romney, who blasted the Obama administration for hamstringing the economy with unnecessary regulations during a campaign stop last month in Craig.
In Friday’s release, the EPA estimated economic benefits from improved health would range from $88 million to $5.9 billion per year, while the cost to industry for upgrading its technology to meet the stricter standards would come in at $2.9 to $69 million annually.
Industry officials argued that air quality has improved steadily under the 2006 emissions standards on soot. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to consider revisions every five years.
“Air quality will continue to improve dramatically under the current government standards, but EPA’s proposal could substantially increase costs to states, municipalities, businesses and ultimately consumers without justified benefits,” said Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the American Petroleum Institute. “We are concerned that it could come at a significant economic cost and lost investments and limit our ability to produce the energy our nation needs.”
The EPA will solicit public comment and hold hearings on the proposed emissions standards before issuing a final rule by Dec. 14.