The Environmental Protection Agency has asked the U.S. government to enact strict new smog regulations for ground-level ozone that the agency says negatively effects the health of millions of Americans. The request to cut ground-level ozone levels to .006 to .007 parts per million comes less than two years after the Bush administration set standards of .0075 particles of pollutants per one million.

That doesn't sound like a very big change, but the New York Times reports that the agency quotes the price tag of such a change at between $19 billion and $100 billion per year by 2020. Oil manufacturers, manufacturing and utility companies are the main source of air pollution and they will have to spend heavily to meet the proposed regulation.

Much of the costs associated with making powerplants and manufacturing facilities cleaner will fall directly on the shoulders of consumers, though a great deal of that money could possibly be recouped by cheaper health care. The EPA estimates that we would save between $13 billion and $100 billion per year in health care costs if our air were cleaner. Even more important are the estimated 12,000 lives that will be spared each year from heart and lung disease if big industry emits fewer pollutants.

Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson underscored the negative impact of smog to our health, adding that ground-level ozone "dirties our air, clouds our cities and drives up our health care costs across the country." National Association of Clean Air Agencies executive director S. William Becker adds that local governments have been asking for tougher standards "for 30 years," and that cleaner air "will ensure that public health is protected with an adequate margin of safety."

Not surprisingly, the oil lobby isn't all that happy with the EPA's request. The American Petroleum Institute calls the proposal costly and likely ineffective, classifying it as an "obvious politicization of the air quality standard setting process that could mean unnecessary energy cost increases, job losses and less domestic oil and natural gas development and energy security."

[Source: New York Times | Image: Ethan Miller/Getty]