AIR POLLUTION:

EPA delays smog decision for third time

For the third time this year, U.S. EPA has announced that it needs more time to issue a set of rules that decide how aggressively the United States will need to fight ground-level ozone, the key ingredient in smog.

EPA plans to ask its scientific advisers for "additional advice," a process that will push back a final decision until the end of July, according to a court filing that was submitted today.

The delay in the revisions to the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone, which set a limit on the acceptable level of smog from coast to coast, is a major retreat for the Obama administration. One of Administrator Lisa Jackson's first major decisions as EPA chief was to reconsider the standards put in place during the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, which were less stringent than the agency's scientific advisers had recommended.

The American Lung Association and the American Medical Association have thrown their weight behind the tighter standards, saying that they are necessary to prevent asthma and other types of respiratory problems. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set standards that protect public health, but industry groups say the limits that scientists had recommended would be unworkable and expensive.

In January, EPA proposed setting a limit between 60 and 70 parts per billion. The change to the standard, which Jackson described at the time as "long overdue," would provide between $13 billion and $100 billion in health benefits at a cost of $19 billion to $90 billion, according to EPA projections.

While the agency had originally aimed to release a final ozone standard in August, the agency pushed back the deadline until October, and then until December. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the chairman of the Senate Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, said the latest delay would leave "millions of Americans unprotected from harmful ozone air pollution under an outdated, ineffective ozone standard."

Industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute have argued that the agency should wait until the next scheduled review of the standard, which would have been finished in 2013.

The agency's mission "can and should be met through scientifically sound, cost-effective measures that allow for continued economic growth and job creation," said Howard Feldman, API's vice president for regulatory and scientific affairs.

The administration's plan to tighten the smog standard has drawn criticism from many lawmakers, including some moderate Democrats. That fact, along with the announcement yesterday that EPA wants more time to finish a set of controversial rules for industrial boilers, suggests that the agency is bowing to political pressure, said Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch.

"This is a bitter pill to swallow," O'Donnell said. "It is hard to avoid the impression that EPA is running scared from the incoming Congress."

Click here to read the filing.