WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed the strictest-ever health standards for smog-emissions. The proposed standard would replace the one set by the Bush administration in 2008, which had been challenged by environmentalists as being ineffective.
The proposal sets a primary standard for ground-level ozone of no more than 0.06 to 0.07 parts per million, over two decades. The Bush administration's old standard was 0.075 parts per million.
The EPA says the proposal would yield health benefits valued at between $13 billion and $100 billion, and would cost manufacturers, oil refineries and utilities between $19 billion to $90 billion a year starting in 2020.
Environmentalists praised the proposal.
"Today's announcement is a breath of fresh air." Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said in a statement. "We applaud EPA for listening to health professionals and scientists, and proposing a rule that provides real protection for millions of people."
Smog, or ground-level ozone, is linked to a number of serious health problems, from asthma to increased risk of premature death in people with heart or lung disease. Ozone can even harm healthy people who work and play outdoors.
"It dirties our air, clouds our cities, and drives up our health care costs across the country," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "Using the best science to strengthen these standards is a long overdue action that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live healthier."
The EPA said it reviewed more than 1,700 scientific studies to guide its March 2008 decision to reset the standards. The agency also said it studied public comments from the 2008 rulemaking process, and the findings of the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which recommended the proposed changes.
This proposal is meant to help reduce premature deaths, aggravated asthma, bronchitis cases, hospital and emergency room visits and days when people miss work or school because of ozone-related symptoms, the agency said.
Ground-level ozone forms when emissions from industrial facilities, power plants, landfills and motor vehicles react in the sun.
The EPA will take public comment for 60 days after the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. The agency also will hold three public hearings on the proposal in February, in preparation for issuing a final rule.
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