In the meantime, steps that are already under way to control pollution should continue to provide more modest gains in air quality.
A coalition of powerful industry groups denounced the decision as a "crushing blow" to the economy, and urged Congress to overturn it.
"The administration lacked the courage to do what is right," said Charles J. DiBona of the American Petroleum Institute, a leader of the coalition.
"Those who worked hard to bring reason to the debate, including some 250 members of Congress, 27 governors and more than a thousand mayors and other state, county and local officials, were simply ignored," he said.
Environmental groups effusively praised the new standards and raised no objections to the flexible approach the administration is offering to put the rules in place.
"They really stood up to the worst that industry could throw at them," said Philip Clapp, the head of the Environmental Information Center, who had lobbied hard on the issue and criticized Gore last week for not intervening strongly enough.
For the first time, pollution from very fine particles in the air will be limited. The Environmental Protection Agency says this step will prevent about 15,000 premature deaths each year.
The limit on smog-producing ozone in the air will be tightened. This is the first change in ozone standards in 20 years, and the EPA says it is particularly important for children with asthma.
States and counties will have at least until 2003 to meet the ozone standard, and longer to meet the particulate standard.
Pollution will be measured over a longer time frame than first proposed, which will give more flexibility to industries that pollute.
New classifications will help cities, counties and businesses that pollute avoid being labeled as lawbreakers, so long as they are making progress toward cleaning up pollution.
Trade-offs will allow some industries to keep polluting, so long as others do much better than required.
Knight-Ridder News Service