WASHINGTON Public health and environmental groups sued the Obama administration on Tuesday to overturn a decision that scrapped tougher standards on smog pollution which causes lung and heart problems.
Earthjustice, the American Lung Association, the Environmental Defense Fund and others sued the administration after the White House on September 2 directed the Environmental Protection Agency to kill the draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard.
"We contend that decision was illegal and irresponsible," David Baron, a lawyer for Earthjustice, told reporters in a conference call. "It was illegal because it was based on politics instead of protecting peoples' health which is what the Clean Air Act requires."
He said the decision leaves thousands of people at risk of illness and premature death stemming from emissions of smog-forming chemicals.
The suit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.
President Barack Obama said in September the decision was part of an effort to reduce regulatory burdens for business.
The EPA has been under pressure from businesses and Republicans in the House of Representatives to delay or weaken a raft of rules on emissions of mercury, greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
Smog standards can affect big polluters like coal burning power generators such as American Electric Power and Southern Corp.
Lisa Jackson, U.S. EPA administrator, had wanted to strengthen a 2008 standard on smog -- 75 parts per billion in ambient air -- put forward when George W. Bush was president.
But with the White House blocking a tougher rule, Jackson's office will enforce the old standard.
The EPA, which plans to propose revisions to the standards in 2013, did not immediately answer requests for comment on the lawsuit.
(Web link to the suit: link.reuters.com/vyc44s )
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Jim Marshall)