gas mask graffitiSmog, schmog — that’s what gas masks are for.Photo: Alex CarmichalIn his latest attack on the environment, President Barack Obama today announced that he is directing the EPA to withdraw standards that would have cut smog pollution from automobiles, power plants, and refineries. Obama might want to consider that wheezing kids, no jobs, and caving to Big Oil do not a reelection make.

The standards Obama blocked could have saved up to 12,000 lives by 2020, according to the EPA, and slashed tens of thousands of children’s asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. The environmental justice organization Green for All summed it up when it tweeted (referring to Obama’s delaying action on ozone until at least 2013, when he may be out of office):

If the 1-in-6 African-American kids with asthma could just hold their breath until 2013, they should be fine.

More broadly, by blocking the smog standards, Obama is jettisoning one of the few remaining major job creation programs he can create without Congress. Notwithstanding oil industry propaganda, the EPA’s analysis shows that the smog rules would have created a whopping $17 billion in economic benefits — everything from health care savings from avoided asthma attacks to job creation in American-made pollution controls. Even as the jobs program he rolls out to Congress goes nowhere because of Republican intransigence, Obama is unilaterally throwing away one of the biggest job creation opportunities he has.

Obama’s decision has significant negative implications for the climate too — the ozone standards would have forced some switching away from coal and other dirty fuels to cleaner energy and a variety of conservation measures. This move will not be ignored in Beijing, New Delhi, Jakarta, and other cities looking for signals about American action on climate.

In other words, a great day for ExxonMobil, and a terrible day for America’s children and the planet.

Politically, this decision is going to further deflate environmentalists who are already frustrated about the administration’s huge coal mining expansion, offshore oil drilling blitz, and consideration of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline — all of which are directly undermining gains achieved by Obama’s increased fuel efficiency requirements for cars and trucks. Given how much more President Obama cares about the oil companies than the environmental movement, we might as well just let the oil companies take care of his reelection and focus our resources on congressional and state house champions.

That’s not a happy state, given the threat embodied by Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and other Republicans, but it’s one we will find ourselves in unless a progressive, pro-environment Democrat more concerned about job creation and protecting the planet recognizes Obama’s dismal approval ratings and general inadequacy and steps up to give Democrats and the American people an alternative they can be excited about.