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Texas Regulators Hail Clean-Air Surrender

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AUSTIN (AP) – The Texas panel in charge of enforcing state environmental regulations cheered President Barack Obama’s decision Friday to scrap a tougher clean-air regulation aimed at reducing health-threatening smog that had drawn consistent fire from Gov. Rick Perry.

Environmentalists, however, were outraged by the decision.

In a dramatic reversal, Obama on Friday yielded to bitter protests from congressional Republicans and business interests who argued the rule would kill jobs in the nation’s sputtering economy.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, filled with Perry appointees, had argued the tougher regulation was unnecessary. In a Friday statement, the TCEQ said it was “glad the Obama administration finally agrees with this position and has put a halt to this job killing proposal.”

“The decision seems to recognize that current science does not justify further tightening of the ozone standards to protect public health,” the TCEQ statement said. “Indeed, it may even signal a realization that the consequences of a bad economy, such as joblessness and poverty, have negative public health effects.”

Perry, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, frequently uses the EPA as an example of the Obama administration meddling in state affairs. Recently, he slammed the EPA for including Texas in new rules that will require the state’s coal-fired power plants to cut down on smog and acid-rain causing pollution.

The long-running tit-for-tat between Texas and the EPA, which has evolved from one over environmental regulation into a fight over states’ rights, led the federal agency to take an unusual hands-on attitude in the Lone Star State.

The EPA had reached a deal with 136 Texas companies to apply for new permits after ruling that the TCEQ’s so-called “flexible permits” violated the federal Clean Air Act. At the time, Texas blasted the EPA ruling, challenging it in court and saying it could hurt the companies’ bottom-lines, lead to layoffs or even force some older facilities to declare bankruptcy.

The EPA, however, worked directly with the companies to reach the deals — an unusual move for a federal agency that has often taken a broader view of environmental regulation, leaving permitting for the states to handle.

“Only after another dismal jobs report does President Obama decide to take a first step to address burdensome EPA regulations that prevent job creation. If the president was truly serious about turning our economy around and creating jobs, he would address the reams of unnecessary regulations that continue to strangle our nation’s job creators, particularly in our domestic energy sector,” said Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, called Friday’s announcement “the first EPA decision I’ve agreed with under the Obama administration, and I’m pleased that they are taking an important step that will help keep jobs in Texas.

Environmentalists said the decision would mean more sick Texans and sicker Texans.

“Obama has exhibited craven political cowardice in backing out on this rule. It will end up continuing the high of health care for Texans,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, Texas director for the watchdog organization Public Citizen.

“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath,” Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from this dangerous air pollution, the White House today chose to kick the can down the road. Our kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”

They cited U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 5,000 asthma-related deaths occur each year in the United States. The American Lung Association estimated that, 869,000 adults and 438,000 children suffer from asthma in Texas.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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