WASHINGTON -- Environmental groups sued the Obama administration yesterday for scrapping a stricter limit for smog-forming pollution, saying the decision violated the law and put politics ahead of protecting public health.

The lawsuit filed in the federal appeals court in Washington by four environmental and public health groups came after the White House last month said it would not support setting a new standard for ground-level ozone until 2013, outraging environmentalists.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson had said in 2009 at the recommendation of scientific advisers that she wanted a more stringent standard to protect public health.

But President Barack Obama, facing a re-election race in 2012 and under pressure from business groups and Republicans, rejected the final proposal. A White House official said a new standard would create "needless uncertainty" at a time when the economy was struggling.

The cost of complying was estimated at between $19 billion and $90 billion a year, making it one of the most expensive environmental regulations ever and earning it a spot on a list of rules targeted by House Republicans.

The Clean Air Act prohibits the EPA from considering compliance costs when setting a public health standard.

Ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, triggers asthma attacks, causes lung damage and increases the risk of dying from lung disease.

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