I’ve been worrying aloud on the blog that the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be doing much to prepare for the relentless assault on EPA that’s already underway, not only on its coming greenhouse-gas regulations but on its entire agenda. Instead, the agency looks to be backing down.

On Tuesday, EPA asked for a one-year delay on its new rules for soot and toxics pollution from industrial boilers and solid-waste incinerators. On Wednesday, it announced that it would be delaying its new smog rules (for the third time) until July, despite a court order to produce them by Dec. 31.

This is mystifying. By any rational cost-benefit analysis, these rules would be some of the most cost-effective in federal government history. Brad Plumer has an excellent state-of-play piece. As he notes, “EPA experts found [PDF] that cutting toxic pollution could prevent 5,000 deaths and 36,000 asthma attacks each year. (All told, the rule would have cost an estimated $6.4 billion each year while delivering between $138 billion and $334 billion in annual health benefits—not a bad deal.)” [Correction: Brad was looking at the wrong analysis, and I didn’t catch it either. Here’s the updated sentence: “the rule would have cost an estimated $2.9 billion each year while delivering between $17 billion and $41 billion in annual health benefits—not a bad deal.”]

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Meanwhile, the EPA’s most recent analysis [PDF] found that by 2020, the benefits of a strong ozone standard outweigh the costs for every level considered (click for larger version):

EPA ozone standard cost-benefit analysisUS EPA

At the lowest proposed level of ozone, .055 parts per million, net outcome ranges from a cost of $56 billion to a benefit of $62 billion. There are good reasons to think the EPA is undercounting the benefits of cutting ozone — stay tuned for more on that — but even with these conservative estimates, the standards look like a good deal.

Of course these projections are, to put it mildly, uncertain, as EPA acknowledges. Others estimate different costs. Not surprisingly, as noted in the World Resource Institute’s latest entry in its superb recent series on EPA regs, industry projects wildly higher costs:

The latest effort to challenge EPA regulations is being led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which expresses “strong concerns about [the regulations’] significant negative impact … on jobs and local economies.” Industry claims extend well beyond regulation of greenhouse gases: Two recent industry-backed studies (here and here) [PDF] attempt to show that tougher EPA emissions rules for boilers and a more stringent nationwide ozone standard could put millions of U.S. workers out of their jobs and shrink the nation’s economy by upward of $1 trillion [PDF].

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Picture Dr. Evil, pinkie to the corner of his mouth: “One triiillion dollars!”

The industry studies are pretty obviously bogus, since they virtually exclude benefits from cost-benefit calculation. But we don’t have to guess about these things. Industry and conservative predictions about the cost of environmental regs have been proven wrong over and over and over. There’s a record here.

Given the extraordinarily strong case that its upcoming regulations will be unambiguously in the public interest, it’s a shame to see EPA hedging its bets. As Frank O’Donnell says, “It is hard to avoid the impression that EPA is running scared from the incoming Congress.”