The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last week it was setting its strictest eight-hour standard for ground-level ozone, the primary component of smog, restricting it to just 0.075 parts per million (ppm).

However, green groups accused the White House of overruling agency chiefs to make the standard less strict than the level of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm unanimously recommended by EPA’s own scientists.

Campaigners also claimed the White House had instructed EPA to remove a separate second standard designed to protect forests, land, soils and crops from ozone air pollution.

Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, and a former EPA lawyer, said: “The White House today cast aside science and law to impose its will upon EPA, leaving America’s health and environment behind.”

Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said: “The Bush Administration is compromising public health to save industry money.

“EPA documents show that public health benefits would be far greater under tougher standards recommended by the science advisers.”

White House spokesman Tony Fratto denied the administration had acted outside the law.

He said: “What we were trying to do on the smog decision was try to have a decision that was consistent with our interpretation of the statute.

“This was not a weakening of regulations or standards governing ozone, but it was an effort to make those standards consistent.”

He added: “What we were dealing with was more of a technical matter on the secondary standard, that would monitor the public welfare benefit of reducing particulate matter. And it’s a different standard.

“We sought advice from the Justice Department, as you would expect us to do, in how to carry out our decision on that. And that’s what we did, and we did it conforming with the law.”

EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to review the ozone standards every five years.

Kate Martin

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