U.S. regulators delay smog rule for fourth time

Tue Jul 26, 2011 2:42pm EDT

* Fourth time EPA delays rule

* OMB reviewing rule, EPA says will be finalized "shortly"

* Dow Chemical, industry groups say rule too expensive

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON, July 26 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday it would again delay issuing a final limit on smog pollution opposed by manufacturers and many Republican lawmakers until the Obama administration has finished reviewing it.

In December, the agency said it would issue the rule by the end of July.

However, on Tuesday the EPA said the rule is going through interagency review at the White House Office of Management and Budget and that it will not issue the rule on Friday as it had intended.

"Following completion of this final step, EPA will finalize its reconsideration, but will not issue the final rule on July 29th, the date the agency had intended," the EPA said in a release.

It did not say when it expects the rule to be issued, but added, "we look forward to finalizing this standard shortly."

It was the fourth time the agency delayed the smog standards, originally slated to be finalized last August.

The initial standards, proposed near the start of last year, would limit ground-level ozone, or smog, to between 60 and 70 parts per billion measured over eight hours.

The proposal was stronger than 2008 standards set by the Bush administration. Environmentalists blasted those for being less than what government scientists recommended.

Under the rule, factories and oil, natural gas and power generators would be forced to cut emissions of nitrogen oxides and other chemicals called volatile organic compounds. Smog forms when those chemicals react with sunlight.

The rule has been opposed by industry groups. The American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable complain that it would damage the economic recovery and that many areas would not be able to meet the new limits.

Dow Chemical Co (DOW.N) has said the rule could cost as much as $90 billion. Several companies including Dow have urged the administration to delay the rule until 2013.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said the ozone rules would save as much as $100 billion in health costs, and help prevent as much as 12,000 premature deaths from heart and lung complications. She has toured the country touting the health benefits of the agencies air pollution rules. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Alden Bentley)((timothy.gardner@thomsonreuters.com; +1 202-898-8360; timothy.gardner.reuters.com@reuters.net))