US EPA goes with Bush-era smog rule it had bashed
* White House killed tougher plan as Republicans pressured
* Jackson had sought 70 ppb standard on ozone
* EPA's Jackson had called rule "not legally defensible"
WASHINGTON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - The United States will enforce a Bush-era standard on smog pollution after the White House, under pressure from Republicans, killed a tougher plan, the country's top environmental regulator said on Thursday.
Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, told a congressional hearing her office will enforce a standard limiting ground level ozone, or smog, to 75 parts per billion. That is the level of a 2008 rule made under the administration of George W. Bush.
Polluters and Republicans have attacked air pollution rules the EPA is forging, saying they will raise costs for companies and erase jobs. Bowing to the critics, President Barack Obama this month killed the EPA smog plan that would have cut levels to between 60 and 70 ppb.
After the hearing the EPA sent a letter informing regional directors that state and local air agencies will have to comply with the 75 ppb rule, which could add costs to power generators such as Southern Co. (SO.N) and American Electric Power, (AEP.N) and manufacturers including Dow Chemical (DOW.N).
The agency will implement the standard mindful that "in these challenging economic times EPA should reduce uncertainty and minimize the regulatory burdens on state and local governments," the letter said. It plans to propose revisions to the standards in 2013.
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Jackson had wanted to get aggressive on smog, which can harm hearts and lungs, after an independent panel advised her agency levels of 60 ppb to 70 ppb were necessary to protect human health.
She said a stronger plan would help prevent about 12,000 premature deaths a year and $100 billion in healthcare costs and that the Bush-era rule was not legally defensible.
But Republicans who want to block far more EPA air rules than just the ozone rule forced Obama to compromise. A bill that would stop EPA from regulating a wide variety of rules on mercury and other air pollutants was expected to be voted on soon in the House.
The measure would likely pass in the Republican-controlled House, but faces an uphill battle in the Senate. The White House indicated on Wednesday that Obama would veto it if it passed the Congress.
The EPA will now have to determine which parts of the country are out of compliance with the smog standard. The current standard is 84 ppb.
Environmentalists, who were incensed by Obama's move to kill the more aggressive smog plan, were pragmatic about Thursday's move.
"At this point, with one hand tied behind her back, this is the best Jackson can do right now," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.