Public Health vs. Corporate Profitability or: Why Science Cannot (And Does Not) Determine Policy

In his inaugural address, Mr. Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place” in making government environmental policy. He also pledged to revisit environmental rules set by the administration of George W. Bush that his administration felt were too weak.

The Obama administration’s policy on smog exposes the myth that science alone can arbitrate debates about acceptable levels of environmental risk – a myth the administration itself has heavily relied upon to build political capital.

The standard for ozone was last set in 2008 by the Bush administration at a level of 75 parts per billion, above the range of 60 to 70 recommended by the E.P.A.’s scientific advisory panel at the time, but never enacted.

Environmental and public health groups challenged the Bush standard in court, saying it would endanger human health and had been tainted by political interference. Smog levels have declined sharply over the last 40 years, but each incremental improvement comes at a significant cost to business and government.

A snapshot of the policy debate below reveals that the acceptable level of ozone is ultimately determined by how one values the health of children relative to the health of corporate balance sheets, not by “science”:

Mr. Daley, Mr. Sunstein and Gina McCarthy, the top clean air official at the E.P.A., sat at the table; a half-dozen more junior aides lined the walls.

Charles D. Connor, president of the American Lung Association and a childhood friend of Mr. Daley’s, opened by discussing the adverse health impacts of ozone. He introduced Monica Kraft, a pulmonologist at Duke University and the president-elect of the American Thoracic Society.

“I told them that we thought a 70 p.p.b. standard was appropriate for health reasons and laid out the statistics on deaths associated with progressively higher levels of ozone,” Dr. Kraft said. She emphasized the damage smog does to the lungs of even healthy young children.

Mr. Daley listened politely, then asked, “What are the health impacts of unemployment?” It was a question straight out of the industry playbook.

Another member of the group introduced polling data showing strong public support for tougher air rules. Mr. Daley cut him off with an expletive, saying he was not interested in polls.

Daniel J. Weiss of the Center for American Progress presented data showing little difference in employment and economic growth in areas required to adopt stricter ozone standards than those that did not. Mr. Daley nodded but said nothing.

As the meeting was breaking up, Mr. Daley said, “As you know, it’s a very difficult economic time.”

There is no reason to believe that Daley does not accept that “at 65 parts per billion, [as] the [EPA] calculated, as many as 7,200 deaths, 11,000 emergency room visits and 38,000 acute cases of asthma would be avoided each year.” He just thinks the costs to corporate profitability outweigh the benefits to children’s health.

Daley’s ethical character as reflected by this decision may be extremely questionable, but you cannot say he is “ignoring the science.” The policy ultimately reflects his commitment to his corporate background:

He is a top executive at JPMorgan Chase, where he is paid as much as $5 million a year and supervises the Washington lobbying efforts of the nation’s second-largest bank. He also serves on the board of directors at Boeing, the giant military contractor, and Abbott Laboratories, the global drug company, which has billions of dollars at stake in the overhaul of the health care system.

And now William M. Daley , the son and brother of Chicago mayors and a behind-the-scenes political player himself, will hold one of the most powerful jobs in Washington: chief of staff in the White House, where he will help decide who gets into the Oval Office and what President Obama ’s Capitol Hill agenda should be…

Mr. Obama, during a ceremony in the East Room on Thursday, cited that long list of jobs as part of the reason he picked Mr. Daley.

“Few Americans can boast the breadth of experience that Bill brings to this job,” the president said, adding that he was “convinced that he’ll help us in our mission of growing our economy and moving America forward.”

JPMorgan Chase has been Mr. Daley’s primary corporate home since 2004. He was hired, company officials said, as something of consolation prize to Chicago when Chase, which has its headquarters in New York, was taking over Bank One, which was based in Chicago. Chase executives, including Jamie Dimon , its chairman, wanted to bring in someone with Chicago connections who could smooth over relations with wealthy clients and corporations there.

One Chase official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter, recalled, “A few bankers said we should hire a Bill Daley,” meaning someone with Chicago political connections and clout who could serve as a new public face for Chase.

Mr. Dimon’s response was simple: “How about Bill Daley?”

Mr. Daley started as chairman of Chase’s Midwest operations, but by 2007 he had expanded his portfolio, joining the bank’s senior leadership team as chief of its new Office of Corporate Social Responsibility, whose most important function was to oversee the company’s global lobbying efforts.

Re-election Strategy Is Tied to a Shift on Smog – NY Times

This entry was posted in Accountability, Degrowth Economics, Environmental policy, Occupy Wall Street, Sustainability, Risk Management, & Long-Term Security. Bookmark the permalink.

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