EPA postpones smog rule until July

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday it was again delaying its final rule on smog limits, with the rule now expected by the end of July 2011.

Miguel Aguirre adjusts a U.S. flag at a smog inspection station in San Francisco, California January 26, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

This is the third time the agency has delayed the smog standards, originally slated to be finalized in August.

The initial standards proposed near the start of this 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 the Bush administration set. Environmental groups criticized those for being less stringent than government scientists recommended.

An EPA spokesman said the agency needs time to complete a scientific review. EPA head Lisa Jackson plans to ask the agency’s independent team of scientists for more guidance on studies used to make their recommendations.

The proposed rules would require factories and oil, gas and power companies to cut emissions of nitrogen oxides and other chemicals called volatile organic compounds. Smog forms when those compounds react with sunlight.

Industry groups have attacked the proposed rules, arguing they have already spent billions of dollars to lower emissions.

The American Petroleum Institute, the major lobbying group for oil and gas, cheered the delay.

“We hope today’s decision means EPA will simply roll this out-of-cycle proposal into the next formal ozone review, which is scheduled to begin shortly,” said Howard Feldman, of API.

EPA said the proposal would cost $19 billion to $90 billion to implement. But it said it would save $14 billion to $100 billion from healthcare bills for asthma, lung damage, and other diseases as well as lost work costs.

Frank O’Donnell, of Clean Air Watch, expressed dismay at the further delay of the smog rule.

“This is a bitter pill to swallow,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “It is hard to avoid the impression that EPA is running scared from the incoming Congress.” (Editing by David Gregorio)