Revisions to the Clean Air Act were again delayed earlier this month. For those of you who may be a little rusty on Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, the Clean Air Act, introduced in the 1970s, is designed to reduce the amount of pollutants — known to have adverse effects on humans — from being released into the atmosphere. Much like the Safe Drinking Water Act — which isn’t just a clever name — the CAA is designed to protect the overall health of Americans.

The CAA is a success story of the EPA, and our country is better for it. But with any regulation, the name of the game is adapt or die. That’s why in 2009, the EPA was given the go-ahead to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) after years of research indicated that the six gases — including carbon dioxide — are detriments to human health as well as the environment.

After the controversial ruling to regulate greenhouse gases, I thought the EPA would have a great deal of power to tweak the CAA to provide a healthier environment for Americans and rule the air with a zero-emissions fist. Not so. Earlier this month, stricter regulations on acceptable levels of smog in the atmosphere, and the execution of regulating GHGs were delayed for the second time in three months.

If you’re sitting there thinking that I’m just another hippy, who only stops hugging trees long enough to spew out some global warming nonsense, hear me out. These stricter guidelines would reduce acceptable amounts of smog in the atmosphere from 75 parts per billion to somewhere between 60 and 70 ppb. These new rules are the result of years of scientific investigation of the effects of smog on humans. Experts have estimated that this reduction would prevent nearly 2,200 heart attacks and 8,400 emergency room visits in the next eight years. It isn’t the trees that the EPA is trying to save, it’s the lives of thousands of Americans.

The steps taken to improve the quality of life aren’t solely because of the EPA. A Sep. 15 blog post by the New York Times explains that the U.S. Supreme Court has mandated the regulation of emissions to be “a threat to human health and the environment.” The EPA has provided proof that the current acceptable levels of smog and GHG under the CAA are just that.

The backlash of increasing these regulation levels comes from the expected industrial parties who argue the new regulations will cost them money they don’t have. And though EPA officials have said the delay is a result of “agency considerations and not by political pressure from the White House,” it’s apparent that this isn’t the case.

President Barack Obama is a forward-thinking man when it comes to decisions that could jeopardize his re-election in 2012. Sen. James Inhofe (Ok.—R) seems certain, according to a press release, that the price of these new regulations could “cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs, [as well as costing] President Obama his own job, and he knows it all too well.”

On the flip side of this are experts who argue the lack of regulations are more costly to Americans than the actual employment of these guidelines. Mark Jacobson, a greenhouse gas expert at Stanford University, told the Huffington Post that “the EPA is well aware that controlling air pollution has a benefit-to-cost ratio of about four to one” due to the health care expenses of hospital visits.

These academic endorsements on the new regulations are to be expected with as much certainty as industrial companies’ opposition on the matter. We’ve come to an impasse— one that certainly won’t be resolved until after the 2012 election.

Though it’s clear that taking away a person’s job is the quickest way to create a straight Republican ticket, Obama should have a little more pride when it comes to following up on promises. I can’t even begin to imagine the pressures of running for office, and I’m not so naïve that I turn everything a president says into gospel. But I do sense a certain trend of actions by the current administration. Think big. Act small.

These new regulations will undoubtedly create a healthier environment and save lives. The research and plans for implementation are there, yet the courage to stand behind an unpopular decision is not. If every president’s decisions came down to a popularity contest, Obama would certainly not be in office. Though the CAA is a far cry from emancipation, they both require courage by our country’s leader. Courage that I hope is displayed soon.

Joe Sugiyama can be reached at jmsugi@umich.edu.

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