Counties Face Stricter Smog Restrictions

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new, stricter smog standards Thursday, which would reverse Bush-era limits that contradicted scientists' recommendations. Hundreds of counties now face government sanctions if they don't meet the new pollution rules.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed tighter standards for smog. As NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports, this is the latest example of the Obama administration redoing a controversial environmental policy from the Bush administration.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: EPA administrator Lisa Jackson says the science makes it clear: Lower levels of smog have serious impacts on health and the environment.

Ms. LISA JACKSON (Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency): All of us have been outside on a hot, summer day and have that wheezy feeling. But for many Americans, especially children and older Americans and those who have lung problems, smog can be deadly. It can mean more hospital and health care visits.

SHOGREN: Jackson is proposing stricter limits than those set by the Bush administration in 2008. Under the Bush standards, about half of the counties in the country have unhealthy air. Jackson's proposal would add several hundred more to the list of smoggy counties. She based her decision on the advice of an EPA scientific advisory panel whose recommendations had been rejected by the Bush administration. Air pollution expert Rogene Henderson from Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute headed that panel.

Dr. ROGENE HENDERSON (Senior Scientist Emeritus, Lovelace Respiratory Research): This is a win for science. It says: Let's look at the facts. And I'm most pleased.

SHOGREN: But business groups complain that the new standards would cost them tens of billions of dollars. That's because states would have to find ways to clean up, like shifting drivers to public transportation or requiring more pollution control equipment.

Mr. BRYAN BRENDLE (Director of Energy Policy, National Association of Manufacturers): Power plants and factories would definitely have to install new, more expensive controls, and this would raise energy costs.

SHOGREN: Bryan Brendle directs energy policy for the National Association of Manufacturers.

Mr. BRENDLE: This is very bad timing to be adding new controls and regulations on industry as we attempt to recover from the steepest economic downturn since the 1930s.

SHOGREN: The agency is taking public comment and expects to set the new standards later this year.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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