- Associated Press - Thursday, June 14, 2012

Responding to lawsuits from 11 states, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new air quality standards to lower the amount of soot that can be released into the air.

The Obama administration, facing strong resistance from congressional Republicans and industry officials, had sought to delay the politically fraught rule until after the November elections, but was forced to act by a court order.

Critics, including officials representing the oil and gas industry, refineries and manufacturers, complained that overly strict rules could hurt economic growth and lead to job losses.

Soot, made up of microscopic particles released from smokestacks, diesel trucks, wood-burning stoves and other sources, contributes to haze and can burrow into lungs. Breathing in soot can cause lung and heart problems.

Dr. Albert Rizzo, chairman of the board of the American Lung Association, said soot, also known as fine-particle pollution, is a known killer.

“The science is clear, and overwhelming evidence shows that particle pollution at levels currently labeled as officially ‘safe’ causes heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks,” he said.

The long-delayed rule, to be made public Friday, responds to a federal court order requiring the Obama administration to update air quality standards under the Clean Air Act. Administration officials described the rule to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because it had not been announced.

An Obama administration official said the new rule was based on a rigorous scientific review. Virtually all counties in the United States would meet the proposed standard with no additional actions needed beyond compliance with current and proposed rules set by the EPA, the official said.

The new rule would set the maximum allowable standard for soot at a range of 12 to 13 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The current annual standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter.

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