DENVER (AP) – The Environmental Protection Agency said metro Denver and 10 other cities have failed for seven years to meet federal smog standards, and now the government is setting even higher standards.

State officials say the new rules put a bigger burden on high-growth metro Denver and other cities that fail to meet the standards.

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“We’re not meeting the standards in the metro area right now. … We have got to reduce ozone,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday. “We want to make sure we don’t lose funding or suffer other punishment.”

State-run air monitoring shows persistent ozone pollution in metro Denver and along the northern Front Range at unhealthy levels, despite cleaner vehicles and industry, the Denver Post reported.

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Ken Lloyd, director of the Regional Air Quality Council, the lead planning agency in the Front Range, said it will take time to fix the problems. In the meantime, EPA officials said metro Denver and the northern Front Range areas already out of compliance won’t be penalized for missing a July 20 deadline for meeting the standard that has been in place since 2008. But they will have to develop new plans to comply, the officials said.

These areas must use reasonable available control measures and technology, or submit plans to impose new controls, to achieve a 15 percent cut in ozone precursor emissions over six years, EPA spokesman Rich Mylott said.

Environmental Defense Fund regional director Dan Grossman called the EPA’s tightened limit a modest but important step to improve air quality in Colorado and across the nation. A shift away from coal-fired power plants, already in progress, will be part of that plan.

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