Dozens of Democratic municipal and state politicians, minority leaders, and labor bosses have recently penned letters protesting the Obama administration’s proposed ozone rules, claiming that the sweeping regulations would have devastating economic consequences, particularly for America’s most vulnerable.
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize its tightened ozone regulations on October 1, bringing the allowable ozone-pollution levels to 65 to 70 parts per billion, down from 75 before. But many regions of the United States struggled to meet even that earlier standard, and the EPA itself estimates that the regulation could cost as much as $15 billion.
Industry groups put the cost significantly higher; the National Association of Manufacturers called it “the most expensive regulation the U.S. government has ever issued,” citing a study it commissioned putting economic costs as high as $140 billion a year.
State- and municipal-level opposition has come from Democratic leaders representing communities made up heavily of core party constituencies. By some counts, as many as 40 such non-national politicians, labor leaders, and other leading community activists have written letters calling for the ozone rule to be withheld or postponed.
The rule has met opposition even in Obama’s hometown, Democrat-dominated Chicago, where opposition has derived mainly from concerns about the effects of the rules on the manufacturing sector.
Timothy Cullerton, a powerful Chicago city councilman with longtime family ties to the state’s Democratic party, noted that Illinois could lose nearly 35,000 jobs, and also cope with compliance costs as high as $9 billion. He sent his May 5 letter not only to Obama’s senior adviser Brian Deese, but also to Valerie Jarrett, EPA chief Gina McCarthy, and Illinois’s two senators.
“As the industrial and commercial center of the state, Chicago would bear a large share of these severe negative outcomes,” Cullerton wrote, citing Chicago’s “serious financial challenges” and describing how the ozone rules “would make our problems worse.”
John Pope, Chicago’s 10th Ward alderman, agreed. Addressing a May 13 letter to the same group, he described how “the agency seems to have gone too far in pursuit of a noble goal” and how “the impact of this aggressive regulation can be extremely costly to the private sector,” especially manufacturers.
The ozone regulations have also elicited concerns from Democrats’ traditional allies in organized labor.
“I believe it would have an outsized detrimental effect on our economy and employment,” wrote Patrick J. White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council, AFL-CIO, in a letter to the White House and EPA. In Missouri, the NAM study estimated, economic output could drop by as much as $18 billion as a result of the new regulation.
Under the ozone rules, Missouri could also lose up to 29,500 jobs by 2040, many in sectors dominated by union workers. The ozone rules “would be one more good reason to move manufacturing offshore,” White wrote, “leaving Americans without good jobs.”
The adverse consequences for union workers also caught the attention of New York state assemblyman Michael Miller. In a letter to the White House, he cautioned that “the new standards will impose a hardship on hundreds of thousands of union workers such as members of IBEW [the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers], the Teamsters, Plumbers, Pipefitters, Iron Workers, and Utility Workers to name a few.”
Democratic leaders in heavily black communities have also raised concerns about how the rules might affect minorities.
North Carolina state representative Rosa Gill, a Democrat and a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, wrote that she feared the rule would suppress employment, especially for minorities. The NAM study found that North Carolina could lose 13,000 jobs.
Despite recent economic gains for black North Carolinians, “the employment gap between African Americans and whites remains high,” Gill wrote in a May 4 letter. “So you’ll understand why I’m concerned the newly proposed ozone air quality standards would act as a drag on the long awaited recovery my constituents are now enjoying.”
In separate letters, two of Gill’s Democratic colleagues in the North Carolina House of Representatives echoed her sentiments. The loss of jobs “could be disastrous, particularly in rural areas where it is always a struggle to provide workers with family-wage jobs,” Representative Michael H. Wray said.
The ozone standards would create “a burden our still fragile state economy simply can’t afford,” wrote Representative Nathan A. Baskerville. The ozone regulations have generated local concern even in communities long committed to environmental protection.
The ozone regulations have generated local concern even in communities long committed to environmental protection. In Colorado’s Routt County, home to several well-known ski areas, hot springs, and hiking and biking trails, two Democratic commissioners joined with one Republican in writing a letter to the White House in protest.
The EPA’s standards “are too overbearing and are meeting with a lot of resistance even in places where air quality regulations are welcome,” wrote Commissioners Douglas B. Monger, Cari Hermacinski, and Timothy V. Corrigan. “Arbitrarily changing the definitions to bring more areas artificially into non-attainment status is not the way to treat Americans who have gone out of their way to be economically productive while protecting the environment at the same time,” they added.
Such local- and state-level opposition from the Left could represent a significant challenge to President Obama as he pursues aggressive environmental policies. Democrats are far from unified around the president’s climate-change agenda, and growing grassroots opposition could create fractures in a party that’s long prided itself on unity.
Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.