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EPA Proposing First New Smog Standards Since 1997

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose new smog reductions nationwide on Thursday in its first recommendation in a decade on one of the nation's most pervasive air pollutants.

The standard for ground-level ozone _ also called smog _ established in 1997 was 80 parts per billion. The new proposal will be for 70-75 parts per billion, although the agency will accept comments on keeping the current standard, say local air officials and environmentalists who have gotten advance details on the proposal.

Parts per billion is a measure of molecules in the atmosphere.

Environmentalists viewed the proposal as mixed because EPA wouldn't go as far as its scientific advisory panel recommended, and also because the agency will accept comments on retaining the existing standard.

Business groups including the National Association of Manufacturers support keeping the current standard.

An EPA spokesman didn't immediately return calls for comment. The agency planned to unveil the proposal Thursday morning on a conference call with reporters.

Earlier this year, EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee said the standard should be no higher than 70 parts per billion.

The agency will issue a final standard next March.

``EPA is acknowledging that the standard needs to be tightened, and for that we're grateful,'' said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, who revealed details of the proposal.

``What is disappointing is the agency has only given a nod to the independent science advisers who unanimously said the standard should be much tighter ... and what is really troubling is that EPA taking comment on retaining the current standard.''

Some scientists and environmentalists view the current standard as not adequately protective of public health.

However, the National Association of Manufacturers has been lobbying EPA, the White House and other Bush administration agencies to keep it in place, said Bryan Brendle, the group's director of energy and resources policy.

``We believe that a more stringent ozone standard would have a detrimental impact on the manufacturing economy with nominal if any health benefits,'' Brendle said. He noted that states are still implementing the current standard.

About 100 counties are out of attainment with the current standard, meaning states need to develop implementation plans to come into attainment or face loss of federal highway funds.

If EPA went down to 70 parts per billion, that would bring hundreds more counties out of attainment, officials said, which could result in requirements on industry to implement new controls. However, areas will have a number of years to come into attainment with the new standards.

Most counties out of attainment with the current standard are in California, Texas, the Atlanta area, the northeast, the midatlantic and the upper midwest.
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