Other environmental regulations, including a rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from refineries and lower the sulfur content in gasoline, are also behind schedule, and top EPA officials have said not to expect them anytime soon.
In the area of worker safety, the Obama administration in 2009 said it would set new standards for combustible dust, calling the current rules "fragmented and incomplete." A proposal has yet to come out. And another standard to protect workers from cancer-causing and lung-damaging silica has languished at the White House for more than a year.
The pattern is similar for new Agriculture Department nutrition standards for sodas, snacks and other foods sold in public schools outside the regular meal plan. Republicans pilloried the idea that the federal government would do anything it could to restrict school bake sales. The rule has been under review at the White House for months, and was supposed to be ready in June.
The Agriculture Department says it was delayed because Secretary Tom Vilsack had further questions and wanted to make sure the policy was done right.
After industry pressed for more time, the Food and Drug Administration pushed back by six months a rule requiring sunscreen manufacturers to make clear how much protection their lotions and balms really provide.
The retreats have not stopped Republicans from continuing to paint the president as a regulatory zealot.
At a recent campaign appearance in Houston, presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he would work to reverse damage that Obama had done.
"These entrepreneurs are being crushed by high taxation, burdensome regulation, hostile regulators, excessive health care costs and destructive labor policies," Romney said.
In Florida, industry groups and the state mounted a fierce campaign that charged the nutrient rules would kill the Florida economy. Water bills were stuffed with pamphlets warning of an increase in rates. And letters to Florida's congressional delegation threatened action in the November elections if the lawmakers supported the EPA's regulations.
"It was a simple protect-public-health issue," said David Guest, head of the Florida office of Earthjustice, the lawyer who sued on behalf of environmental groups to force the EPA to set the standards. But Guest said that what started out as a wonky pollution lawsuit has become a fat target for Republicans.
The rules, after two subsequent delays, won't take effect until next year. And another regulation aimed at protecting coastal waters isn't expected to be proposed until after voters go to the polls.
Critics of the regulations are hoping for another election-year gift: a decision by the EPA to abandon its requirements, and instead endorse ones drafted by the state.
"It did not hurt that there was an election year coming, and Florida, once again is going to be a competitive state," said Tom Feeney, president and CEO of the Associated Industries of Florida, one of the groups leading the charge.
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn, Sam Hananel, Lauran Neergaard, Joan Lowy, Matthew Daly, Matthew Perrone and Marcy Gordon contributed to this story.
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