EPA asks for another delay on ozone standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked for more time to issue tighter ozone standards aimed at reducing ground-level ozone, a main ingredient of smog, officials said today.

The EPA, which postponed announcing stricter limits last month for the fourth time, has been working since 2009 to impose stricter limits on ozone than those issued under former President George W. Bush in 2008. In a motion filed in federal court, the EPA said it plans to finalize its update of the ozone pollution standard “shortly.”

The current ozone standard, which was approved by President Bush, is set at 75 parts per billion, but the new standards are expected to be lowered to between 60 and 70 ppb. The EPA has estimated that tightening the limits would save as much as $100 billion a year in medical expenses.

However, critics – mainly in the energy and business sector — have said the EPA is rushing to impose harsher limits that would add costs to businesses and hurt an already limping economy.

“There is no need for the EPA to proceed with its reconsideration of 2008 ozone standards,” said Howard Feldman, the American Petroleum Institute’s director of regulatory and scientific policy. “The proposed new standards are so stringent that they would put nearly every county in America in non-compliance, including areas such as the pristine Yellowstone National Park.”

Feldman said tightening the ozone standards could have a severe impact on the growth of the economy and job creation.

Supporters for tougher limits offered their own reaction to the delay.

Michael Brune from The Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental group, said in a statement that the group was “troubled” by the delay in the EPA’s new limits.

“Once updated and implemented, protections against smog will save thousands of lives and prevent tens of thousands of asthma attacks,” said Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. ” The longer the delay, the greater the risk for the millions of Americans who suffer from respiratory illnesses – we urge the Obama Administration to move swiftly on this critical protection to save lives and clean up our air.”

On Thursday, the API and more than 170 other businesses sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to stop the EPA from voluntary reconsideration of the new ground-level ozone standards.

However, a coalition of Northeastern Democratic senators told Obama the opposite.

They were unhappy about the past delays, and they wanted “a strong standard as soon as possible.”