WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration took steps Wednesday to cut levels of smog-forming pollution linked to asthma, lung damage and other health problems, making good on one of President Barack Obama’s original campaign promises while setting up a fresh confrontation with Republicans and the energy industry.
In a long-awaited announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency said it prefers a new, lower threshold for ozone pollution of 65 to 70 parts per billion, but said it would take public comments on an even lower standard of 60 parts per billion sought by environmental groups. The current standard is 75 parts per billion, put in place by President George W. Bush in 2008.
Meeting the stricter rules will cost industry about $3.9 billion in 2025 if the government goes with a standard of 70 parts per billion, the EPA estimated. At a level of 65 parts per billion, the EPA said, the cost grows to $15 billion. But industry groups said the cost would actually be far higher and that it would be nearly impossible for refineries and other businesses to comply.
Pushing back on criticism that new regulations will damage the economy, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said lower ozone standards would actually spur more businesses, investment and jobs by making communities healthier. She said states would be given time to carefully design plans to meet the new standard over the coming decades.
“Critics play a dangerous game when they denounce the science and law EPA has used to defend clean air for more than 40 years,” McCarthy wrote in an op-ed for CNN’s website. “The American people know better.”
But business groups like the National Association of Manufacturers painted the government’s move as a roadblock that threatens to jeopardize manufacturing’s comeback in the U.S. They accused the administration of moving the goalposts, since states are still working to implement the previous standard put in place in 2008.
“Tightening these standards could be the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public, with potentially enormous costs to the economy, jobs, and consumers,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute.
Sen. James Inhofe who is to take over the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in January, vowed “vigorous oversight” of the proposal in his new position.
Under the Obama administration, the EPA has issued or proposed the first regulations to control heat-trapping carbon dioxide, mercury and air toxins from power plants. The administration also has doubled fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks and clamped down on industrial pollution that blows downwind and contaminates other states.
The initial range of 60 to 70 parts per billion proposed by the EPA in January 2010 would have made it one of the most expensive regulations ever issued, with an estimated $19 billion to $90 billion price tag, and would have doubled the number of counties in violation. The agency will seek comment on 60 parts per billion as well as the current standard of 75 parts per billion.
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