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Federal court orders EPA to adopt new air pollution standards after delays

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SAN FRANCISCO - A federal court has given the Obama administration a deadline for updating federal standards for smog that are more than a year overdue.

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in San Francisco on Tuesday ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue ground-level ozone standards by Dec. 1 and a final rule by Oct. 1, 2015.

"EPA will meet the deadlines outlined by the court," Liz Purchia, an agency spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement. "However, the deadlines present a challenge for the agency because there is a significant amount of scientific analysis and review required."

Ozone is the main ingredient in smog, a powerful lung irritant.

At ground-level, ozone is created when emissions from cars and industrial facilities mix with sunlight to create smog.

The court ruling came after environmental groups sued the Obama administration for failing to issue a new standard by March 2013, as required by the federal Clean Air Act.

The last ozone standards were adopted by former President George W. Bush in 2008. Environmental groups had sued the agency then to strengthen the rules, and the Obama administration had vowed to do so.

In 2010, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson proposed tightening the standards, as agency scientific advisers recommended, only to have them tabled by the White House. Businesses and congressional Republicans said the rules would hurt the economy.

Paul Cort, an attorney for the environmental groups who sued, applauded the ruling, saying new standards will improve public health.

"The court's decision today will finally put an end to EPA's foot-dragging on these important health standards," Cort, an attorney for Earthjustice, said in a statement.

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