(CN) - Although new smog limits announced by the EPA on Thursday will require states to do more to cut their ozone emissions, environmentalists and public health advocates say the rules are not stringent enough.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's action toughens limits on the smog-forming pollution linked to asthma and respiratory illness. The new national standard is set at 70 parts per billion, tightened from the 75 ppb set in 2008.
"Put simply - ozone pollution means it hurts to breathe for those most vulnerable: our kids, our elderly and those suffering from heart and lung ailments," EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said.
"Our job is to set science-backed standards that protect the health of the American people. Today's action is one of the most important measures we can take for improving public health, reducing the costs of illness and protecting our children's health," McCarthy said.
Public health advocates who were hoping for a more stringent 60 ppb standard said that the EPA's decision is not tough enough.
Harold Wimmer, CEO of the American Lung Association, said the new standard is a "step in the right direction," but the level chosen "simply does not reflect what the science shows us is necessary to truly protect public health."
A stricter 60 ppb standard "would have prevented up to 1.8 million asthma attacks in children, 1.9 million school days missed, and 7,900 premature deaths nationwide," Wimmer said.
Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, said that the Obama administration "has fallen short of setting a smog standard that fully protects the health of our families, making this decision a missed opportunity to clean up our air and protect the most vulnerable Americans."
Insufficient clean air protections "have disproportionately severe impacts on low income communities and communities of color, who frequently have higher rates of asthma, emergency room visits, and premature deaths linked to air pollution," Brune said.
The EPA estimates that the new rules will prevent 230,000 childhood asthma attacks and 660 premature deaths a year nationwide by 2025, saving between $2.9 billion and $5.9 billion a year in health care and other costs.
Cutting ozone emissions to meet the standard will cost around $1.4 billion annually, according to the agency.
Industry groups said that the new standard is overkill.
Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, called the rule "overly burdensome, costly and misguided."
"Make no mistake: the new ozone standard will inflict pain on companies that build things in America - and destroy job opportunities for American workers," he said.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Timmons' worries, saying that the "most expensive regulation in U.S. history" could lead to "massive job loss and cost tens of billions annually in lost economic growth."
McConnell said that the Obama administration "should focus on helping the communities across our country that still struggle to comply with current Washington mandates, not callously impose even more harsh costs on families and jobs."
The length of time counties will have to comply with the new standards will depend on the severity of their ozone problem. Most states will have to be in compliance by 2025.
Other areas with the worst smog in the nation - including the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles basin in California - will be given until 2037 to comply. Failure to meet the standards can result in a loss of federal highway funds and restrictions on environmental permits for polluters.
In addition to strengthening the ozone standard, the EPA is also extending the ozone monitoring season for 32 states and the District of Columbia. Such monitoring is important especially for children and people with asthma because it provides them with information on whether or not it is safe to spend time outside on a smoggy day, the agency said.
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