U.S. EPA sets new standard on smog pollutant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday it has set a new air quality standard for a pollutant linked to lung problems emitted by automobiles and industrial plants.

The skyline of downtown Los Angeles through a layer of smog is seen in the distance from a rooftop in Hollywood, California, May 31, 2006. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/Files

The agency set the new one-hour standard for nitrogen dioxide, which contributes to smog and fine particulate pollution, at a level of 100 parts per billion (ppb). It is also keeping the exiting annual average standard of 53 ppb.

“For the first time ever, we are working to prevent short-term exposures in high risk NO2 zones like urban communities and areas near roadways,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a release.

The EPA will put new monitors near roadways in cities with at least 500,000 residents to measure the emissions.

The move comes on top of tougher limits on smog the EPA announced earlier in the month.

A clean air advocate said the move lacked teeth because few regions of the country violate the new standard. “If I were grading this it would pass, but only with a C+,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Washington-based nonprofit Clean Air Watch.

But he held out hope that the move would set a precedent where EPA would later require monitors for other traffic-related pollutants, such as particulates.

Oil industry group the American Petroleum Institute blasted Monday’s move.

“There is no significant evidence that the short-term NO2 standard established today by the Administrator is necessary to protect public health,” the group said in a release. “EPA is over-regulating this air quality standard for political -- not health -- reasons.”

API said the oil and natural gas industry has since 1990 spent more than $175 billion on improving environmental performance of its products.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Marguerita Choy