Generators welcomed President Obama’s decision on Friday to delay finalizing an EPA rule that would have required power stations to cut emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone.

The President directed Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson to withdraw the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards until a scheduled review in 2013, saying that while he remains committed to protecting the environment, he also wants to cut regulation on industry.

“I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty as our economy continues to recover,” the President said in a statement released by the White House.

Implementation of the rule would have cost power generators and other industries billions of dollars, potentially restricting their ability to create jobs at a time of persistently high unemployment, underscored on Friday by dismal national employment data showing no net new jobs were created in August.

“We think it’s prudent, especially with the economy having such a hard time emerging from recession,” said Doug Biden, president of the Electric Power Generation Association, which represents 10 companies generating 150,000MW.

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group of power companies that seeks to reduce environmental regulation on power companies, called the decision a “landmark announcement” on an “inappropriate” rule.

“He recognized that the precarious condition of the US economy made expensive new clean air rules very dangerous to the well being of the American people,” Segal said in a statement.

One Of Many

While welcoming the withdrawal of the ozone rule, it was just one of a number of “overlapping and costly” rules, such as required cuts in mercury emissions, that power generators face, Segal said.

If it had been finalized, compliance with the rule would have cost between $19 billion and $90 billion, according to an EPA estimate, making it the most expensive of seven proposed rules that would cost industry $1 billion or more to comply with, Obama said in an August 30 letter to House Speaker John Boehner.

Boehner said in an August 26 letter that he was “startled” to learn the new ozone rule would cost up to $90 billion, and urged the President to provide him with a list of all rules that would cost more than $1 billion.

Environmentalists attacked the decision as politically motivated.

“The White House is siding with corporate polluters over the American people,” said Frances Beinicke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The Clean Air Act clearly requires the Environmental Protection Agency to set protective standards against smog – based on science and law, Beinicke said. “The White House has now polluted that process with politics.”

The Battle Begins Again

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson defended the agency’s record on air quality, and said it will revisit the ozone standard.

“This Administration has put in place some of the most important standards and safeguards for clean air in US history: the most significant reduction of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide air pollution across state borders; a long-overdue proposal to finally cut mercury pollution from power plants; and the first-ever carbon pollution standards for cars and trucks,” Jackson said.

The Business Roundtable, in a study released in July, attacked the proposed lowering of ozone standards to 0.06 parts per million as neither legally required nor technically feasible.

The rule would mean 85% of the 736 US counties with ozone-monitoring equipment would be given non-attainment status, and would suffer job losses as a result, the business group said.