Air pollution regulations to protect children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems can be met without harming economic growth, Vice President Gore said at an Aug. 17 White House ceremony which put the EPA's new air quality standards into effect.

Gore said he is confident "the twin goals of cleaner air and a stronger economy" can be attained as long as states and businesses have adequate time and flexibility to meet the new standards.

But on Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both parties predicted the EPA regulations will immediately put hundreds of counties into violation of federal health standards and cause businesses to abandon or avoid counties because of fears they would have to adopt costly controls.

"If I'm an industry ... why would I go to any county that is going to be in noncompliance?" asked Rep. Ron Klink, D-Pa.

The House has a tentative schedule for mid-September committee action on a bill that would stop implementation of the ozone and soot rules. A vote by the full House could come by the third week of September. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.

"This is about jobs," insisted Rep. David McIntosh, R-Ind., "This regulation will create a sucking sound (of businesses leaving certain counties) that nobody will forget."

Should the measures pass, though, supporters of the clean air rules say they would likely have enough votes to sustain an expected presidential veto.

The regulations are also being challenged in several lawsuits filed by business organizations who say it could cost industry far more than the $6 billion to $8 billion a year estimated by the EPA. They also question the science the EPA used in developing the new air standards.

The new health standards for smog-causing ozone and soot require states and communities to step up air pollution controls over the next decade. The goal is to ensure that air is cleaner and less harmful to people with breathing problems, including children with asthma.

The new standards, along with other efforts aimed at reducing air pollution, could also substantially reduce the amount of nitrogen entering the Bay and other coastal waters.

"These rules are the most significant steps in a generation to protect the American people, especially our children, from air pollution," Gore said. He accused critics of wanting the government to "turn a blind eye" to dirty air.

Federal health standards for ozone had not been changed in 20 years, EPA Administrator Carol Browner said at the White House. She said the new standards reflect more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific studies that show current allowable pollution levels fail to protect asthmatic children, the elderly and others with respiratory ailments.

The standards will prevent 15,000 premature deaths, prevent 350,000 cases of aggravated asthma and ease breathing problems for more than a million children, Browner said. "This is a major step for public health," she said.

Browner consistently insists that the government can be flexible when it comes to deciding what kind of additional pollution controls might be needed to meet the tougher standard. She also has stressed the flexibility of the eventual timetable for meeting those standards. In many cases, states would be given a 10- to 15-year period to develop pollution-control plans.

The new EPA rule requires that healthful air have no more than 0.08 parts per million of ozone over an eight-hour period, instead of the old standard of 0.12 parts per million measured over one hour. It also regulates for the first time microscopic soot, primarily from combustion.

Ozone, a primary ingredient in urban smog, irritates the eyes and causes headaches, inflammation of lung tissue and shortened breath. Many health experts believe the microscopic particles as small as 2.5 microns, or 28 times smaller than the width of a human hair, are especially dangerous because they lodge deep in the lung tissue.

Meeting the new standards would require major reductions in the emissions of nitrogen oxides, a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion, which is a major source of pollution to the Bay and other coastal waters where excess amounts of nitrogen spur water-fouling algae blooms.