Nothing attracts attacks in politics quite like a show of weakness. That’s obviously how energy industry lobbyists read President Obama’s recent retreat on ozone standards. So now that the Administration has demonstrated its willingness – you might even call it eagerness – to cave in on much needed environmental regulation, it’s no surprise that polluting industries are of a mind to press their luck.
How else to explain a request to the Environmental Protection Agency from the American Petroleum Institute – that’s the oil and natural gas industry trade group – to delay until late 2013 forthcoming regulations on refineries, including landmark greenhouse gas regulations.
The current plan is for those rules to be finalized at the end of this year.
To review the bidding on this, the greenhouse gas regs would be among the first to emerge from EPA after a long and brutal battle that involved eight years of Bush Administration intransigence, even in the face of a Supreme Court ruling that all but ordered the Administration to go ahead and regulate greenhouse gases. The Bush effort pretty much spanned the industry playbook. On the campaign trail in 2000, compassionate conservative George W. Bush said he’d regulate carbon dioxide to combat climate change. Once elected, he reneged, and took the view that climate change needed much, much, much more study. Years of study, in fact. Of course, when the scientists weighed in, the Bush team worked to suppress their expert opinion that climate change was real, man-made, and happening now.
Finally, the Administration ended up before the Supreme Court, which, despite its conservative majority, concluded that the Administration’s arguments on why it shouldn’t regulate greenhouse gases were just so much hot, CO2-laden air. Still, President Bush managed to leave town without making any progress toward regulation.
President Obama’s EPA, on the other hand, under the solid leadership of Lisa Jackson, actually moved ahead with greenhouse gas regulation, demonstrating respect for both the law and science, as well as a healthy measure of fear for what will happen if we don’t finally act.
The regulation the industry is after now is among the first to result from that long and painful process. And it’s no accident industry has chosen late 2013 as its delay-to date. To begin with, they’re hoping for a more sympathetic, less environmentally friendly EPA by then. But more than that, that’s the same time frame that the President ordered EPA to aim for with its now-delayed ground-level ozone rules.
It’s an absurd request, of course, based not in science or any other form of reality, but rather grounded on the firm political conviction that it just might work. If the President hadn’t demonstrated that he was in a surrendering kind of mood on ozone, API might not have tried.
From a political point of view, I can relate to API’s ploy. For the last 20 years or so, I’ve been pitching for a rec league softball team here in the Washington suburbs. It’s slow pitch. Basically my job is to avoid walking batters, and to try not to throw too many big juicy ones over the heart of the plate. I find that people who don’t pitch think it’s all about throwing strikes. But I can promise you it’s not. Anybody can get a batter to swing at a strike. The trick is to get the batter to swing at the pitches that aren’t strikes. So here’s my motto: Batters can’t swing at bad pitches if I don’t throw them. So throw them I do.
And so does API, evidently. Their request for further delay is nothing but a pitch in the dirt, thrown to a President they hope is just afraid enough to swing. Let’s hope he keeps his bat on his shoulder this time.