By Ben Geman - 01/09/12 10:26 PM EST
Don’t look for many environmentalists to mourn the resignation of White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who was scorned by some activists for presiding over the controversial decision last year to scuttle tougher Environmental Protection Agency smog rules.
Critics on the left say Daley, who will be replaced by Office of Management and Budget chief Jack Lew, was too close to business interests.
“While Lew's environmental ethic remains to be seen, it's hard to see how he could be worse than Daley, who seemed to do whatever big business asked of him,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch concurred.
“I say good riddance, with hopes that EPA will be permitted to do its job without Daley-style political interference on behalf of big business,” O’Donnell said.
The White House decision to overrule EPA in September came after Daley played an unusually direct role in the process, meeting with a suite of industry groups and environmentalists about the planned ozone regulation.
More broadly, Obama's appointment of Daley — a former bank executive and Commerce secretary — was widely interpreted as an olive branch to the business community, which had been vocal about its unhappiness with the administration and its legislative agenda.
But while many on the left chafed at Daley, one prominent environmentalist said the White House’s broader green record during the year in which Daley served as been generally good.
The environmentalist noted that EPA completed a pair of major rules to curb power plant pollution, including the recent rule to cut mercury emissions, and that the administration proposed rules to significantly boost auto mileage for years 2017-2025, among other accomplishments.
“A lot of progress was made on his watch with one big disappointment,” the environmentalist said, noting Daley was at the White House during “one of the most productive years” at EPA since the Clinton era.
But the smog retreat undeniably stung activists, who called the decision to delay tougher rules a major blow to public health.
“Daley will be most remembered for his disastrous political and public health decision to scuttle smog standards that had scientific consensus and would have saved literally thousands of lives and millions of dollars in health care costs, not to mention help abate climate change impacts,” Snape said in an email, and also noted that some other EPA rules have been delayed, including greenhouse gas standards for power plants.
Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform, said Daley had helped give OMB a tougher hand in the agency rulemaking process, in particular giving more power to Cass Sunstein, the head of OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs who is distrusted by many activists.
“You either believe that Cass Sunstein is very powerful or that he got more powerful when Bill Daley came. I think he got more powerful when Bill Daley came,” said Steinzor, a professor at the University of Maryland’s law school.
Overall, Steinzor called Daley’s departure good news for environmental, safety and health policy.
“We are going to have a lot less of this corporate outreach, making sure everyone in the corporate community is happy,” she said.
—Andrew Restuccia contributed
This post was updated at 5:32 p.m.