Monday, November 28, 2011

Science, Public Policy, and Politics

Like it or not, public policies based on good science are sometimes heavily influenced by political reality. Take the case of the national standards for ozone emissions, the primary component of smog. The EPA proposed new air quality standards for ozone back in January. But in September, president Obama decided to put off acceptance of the new standards until at least after the next presidential election. The reason? Apparently, special-interest groups tied to the industry argued that meeting the proposed standards would impose financial hardships on certain industries and cost thousands of jobs.

The decision to delay the proposed new ozone air quality standards has angered president Obama’s environmentally-conscious supporters, but what can they do? With unemployment currently at 9.1%, it’s hard to argue that job creation should not be a top priority. Lobbyists for environmentally-unfriendly industries know this, of course. In Pennsylvania, where natural gas companies are itching to tap huge reserves of natural gas deep underground, the gas industry argues that EPA standards for natural gas production should be relaxed, not strengthened, because they stifle new job creation.

It’s a difficult balance. The lesson, I suppose, is that whatever you believe in strongly, you need to let your elected representatives know your views.

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