A major showdown is looming between environmentalists and large manufacturing companies following a federal judge's ruling demanding the Obama administration must create a smog standard in the United States.
The decision comes just days after the American Lung Association's "State of the Air" report revealed that America's pollution problem is getting worse and that Los Angeles is the smoggiest city in the country, topping the list for the 14th time in 15 years.
A federal court last week agreed with green supporters and public health groups when it decided that the Environmental Protection Agency must create the new standard by December and start enforcing it by October 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Although the order is not directly aimed at businesses, it forces states to comply with the standards. In turn, the states will demand that manufacturers who release smog-forming pollutants into the air, including nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, must install new equipment that controls pollution emissions.
The ozone controversy is expected to eclipse the climate-change issue during the next few weeks, at least until the EPA brings out new rules that will also broaden standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Business groups, including the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have stepped up lobbying efforts against both moves, according to the Journal.
The manufacturing association is the largest trade group in the country and represents such companies as Caterpillar, ConAgra Foods, Cargill, Alcoa, and numerous fossil-fuel companies.
Referring to the new ozone standard, Ross Eisenberg, vice president of the group, said, "We are planning to use all of the tools at our disposal as an association to try to impact this debate."
But John Walke, the clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which was one of the plaintiffs in the ozone case, said, "It's important to place EPA on a court-ordered deadline to hold the agency accountable for ensuring clean, healthy air for all Americans."
In 2011, the EPA estimated a new ozone standard could cost businesses as much as $90 billion a year. With the 2012 presidential election just around the corner, President Barack Obama put a hold on the new regulations.
Now Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, believes the standards will again be delayed under the Obama administration despite the court ruling, according to the Journal.
"There is no evidence that EPA actually has the stomach to deal with this issue during the rest of Obama's term," O'Donnell said. "EPA's political leadership never talks about it, and they gab incessantly about carbon."
EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the agency expected to meet the federal court's timeline, even though there will be "a significant amount of scientific analysis and review required to update air-quality standards."
The EPA estimated the new regulations would prevent 12,000 premature deaths and 111,000 cases of respiratory symptoms by 2020, according to the Journal.
Last week, the American Lung Association revealed that more than half of Americans breath in unhealthy air, and that air quality worsened from 2010 to 2012 due to the rise in ozone levels, ABC News
The smoggiest cities in America are mostly found in car-centric California, although Houston and New York City also rank among the worst cities for ozone levels and particle pollution. The report said that Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, and Phoenix are also high on the dirty air list.
The healthiest and cleanest air to breathe can be found in Bangor, Maine, and Bismark, N.D.
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