House Republicans call on EPA chief to testify on smog rules

The hearings will focus in part on the potential consequences if regions of the country are unable to meet the standards, the lawmakers said.

The letter is part of a full-court press by Republican and industry groups to scuttle the ozone standards.

The lawmakers blasted Jackson for planning tighter ozone standards, arguing that the Bush administration’s 2008 standards are adequate. They called on EPA to postpone issuing tighter standards until 2013, when the Clean Air Act mandates that the agency review the rules.

“In light of the economic climate, it is important to note that your decision to issue these onerous regulations at this time is a choice – it is completely discretionary on your part,” the letter says. “There are already stringent ozone ambient air quality standards in place that were issued as recently as 2008. Your choice to promulgate alternate costly new standards outside of the Clean Air Act’s normal five-year review cycle defies common sense.”

EPA said Tuesday that it will not meet a July 29 deadline to issue the new ozone standards, but vowed to unveil the rules “shortly.”

Earlier Thursday, the American Petroleum Institute, a powerful oil industry trade group, met with White House Office of Management and Budget staff to raise concerns about the cost of tighter ozone standards.

“This could be EPA’s costliest regulation ever,” Howard Feldman, API’s director of regulatory and scientific affairs told reporters Thursday morning. “No rules could be more detrimental to economic growth, and they could not come at a worse time as the nation struggles with an unsteady economic recovery.”

But environmental and clean-air groups have dismissed Republican and industry criticism of the upcoming ozone rules, arguing that the standards are necessary to protect public health.

Clean Air Watch President Frank O’Donnell said the industry’s concerns about the economic impact of the rules fall flat amid soaring oil company profits.

“It’s a rather awkward time for big oil companies to cry poor and attack EPA for trying to make sure our air is safe to breathe,” O’Donnell said.

Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell both posted soaring second-quarter profits Thursday.