Los Angeles smog.
Los Angeles smog. - 
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Tess Vigeland: And from the nano question, we turn to a more macro environmental issue. The EPA announced new recommendations today on tightening limits on ground-level ozone. Translation: smog. Federal smog standards haven't budged since 1997, and the government says current limits don't adequately protect the public health.

So we can all breathe easier now, right? Well, as Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, the agency's decision was about as clear as a summer day here in Los Angeles.

Sarah Gardner: The EPA's proposal would tighten smog standards as much as 20 percent over the next few decades. But it's not as strict as the standard recommended by the EPA's independent panel of scientific advisors. And the agency will still solicit comments later this year on alternatives, including keeping the status quo.

Frank O'Donnell: That's an outrageous idea.

Frank O'Donnell at Clean Air Watch says the EPA's decision sends mixed signals. He believes the agency is waffling because of political pressure.

O'Donnell: We know that lobbyists for car companies, oil companies, electric power companies and chemical companies have all been to the White House in the last several weeks, and have all said, "Slow the EPA down."

Health advocates say new studies show smog can lead to lung damage, heart disease, even premature death. But industry groups argue many states and counties can't meet current standards, let alone tougher ones.

Bill Kovacs is with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

Bill Kovacs: Some of the standards that EPA is imposing, especially the most restrictive standard, would literally put the entire United States in non-attainment. And once that happens, they have killed the ability of local communities and non-attainment to do economic development.

Counties that fail to meet federal smog standards do risk a loss of federal highway funds. Industry also claims stricter limits will cost over $100 billion. But the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 the EPA doesn't have to consider industry costs when setting ozone limits.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

Follow Sarah Gardner at @RadioGardner