- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Obama administration on Thursday proposed tighter regulations on smog to replace those imposed by President George W. Bush and, if approved, would be the most stringent in U.S. history.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the changes are needed because many believe the Bush administration standards failed to adequately protect humans, but the new standards were immediately attacked by leading business groups.

The agency said the changes, if enacted, will save the country $13 billion to $100 billion in health care costs. However, implementing the plan will cost $19 billion to $90 billion. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson called the regulations long overdue.

Smog — also known as ground-level ozone — is the result of emissions from vehicles and factories reacting to the sun. Smog can aggravate such health problems as asthma and heart and lung disease. The proposed changes also would affect power plants, landfills and motor vehicles.

EPA officials said children are most at risk for smog-related problems because their lungs are still developing, they are active outdoors, and they have a higher incidence of asthma compared with adults.

“Smog in the air we breathe poses a very serious health threat, especially to children,” Ms. Jackson said.

The EPA is proposing two standards: one to protect humans and another to protect the environment, especially plants and trees.

The primary standard would set the smog level at 0.060 to 0.070 parts per million (ppm) measured over eight hours, compared with the Bush administration standard of 0.075 ppm, set in March 2008.

But critics said the tougher standards were poorly timed as U.S. industry struggles to rebound from a deep recession.

“It’s completely unnecessary to pile on the industry sector in today’s economy,” said Bryan Brendle, director of energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). The American Petroleum Institute also issued a statement strongly criticizing the EPA move.

The Obama administration last year had indicated it planned to scrap the Bush smog limits, when it asked a federal judge to stay a lawsuit challenging the March 2008 standards brought by 11 states and environmental groups. The new limits will likely put hundreds more counties nationwide in violation of federal pollution standards, a designation that will require them to find additional ways to clamp down on pollution or face government sanctions, most likely the loss of federal highway dollars.

On Thursday, environmentalists praised the EPA move.

Frank ODonnell, president of Clean Air Watch, called the proposed smog standards “a breath of fresh air from the government” that could “translate into fresher air for every American.” But Mr. Brendle predicted that U.S. industry will bear most of the multibillion dollar implementation cost estimated by the EPA.

One of the biggest cost increases related to the proposed changes, Mr. Brendle said, is that American power plants will have to install or enhance “scrubbers” and other smog-reducing equipment, with the increased costs being passed on to factories that consume about a third of the country’s energy.

Mr. Brendle also said the proposal follows another recent EPA finding that clears the way for new attempts to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions.

He said the proposal is also poorly timed considering the government records show that air quality has improved 25 percent from 1980 to 2008.

The agency said it began working on the standards in September and that the proposed changes are based on public input, more than 1,700 scientific studies and findings by the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which recommended standards in the ranges proposed Thursday.

The EPA will hold three more public hearings through early February before making a final decision.

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