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The Brief: April 2, 2010

Want to see some regulatory muscle in action? See Exhibit A: The Environmental Protection Agency.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Want to see some regulatory muscle in action? See Exhibit A: The Environmental Protection Agency.

Yesterday, the federal agency imposed new mileage and emissions standards for vehicles. They call for an average of 35.5 miles per gallon within the next six years; almost 10 mpg higher than the current standard. These rules are the first ever on vehicular greenhouse-gas emissions, and represent the EPA’s growing scrutiny of air quality under the Clean Air Act — scrutiny Texas is currently fighting in court.

On April 22, new rules governing lead dust will also apply to contractors working in pre-1978 homes, regulation some predict to “become as big as asbestos abatement.” To meet the new requirements, contractors — which could include remodelers, carpenters, plumbers, heating and air-conditioning workers, window installers, and rental property managers — must learn how to minimize the spread of lead dust.

Both of these new standards come after the EPA offered a public rebuke to Texas' industrial air pollution permitting program, a move that affects thousands of companies. According to EPA regional chief Al Armendariz, it halted the program, because it doesn’t allow for sufficient public participation in decision-making process. This won’t be the state's last scolding from the agency. This summer, it will likely target a separate permitting system used to regulate some of the state’s largest industrial plants.

And warmer weather means the ozone season is upon us. That, coupled with the EPA’s recently-enacted ozone requirements that regulate the gas under the Clean Air Act and went into effect in January, means some Texas counties may not meet the new requirements for ground level ozone, KUT reports. Central Texas is one region in danger; last year it barely made the higher range of what the new standards are predicted to be. If the five-county area isn’t in compliance, that means the state could lose federal highway funds.

CULLED:

· Gov. Rick Perry appears ready to make amends with the opponent he used to call “Kay Bailout.” He said he expects her help to defeat Bill White in November, and characterized their bitter primary brawl as “an intramural scrimmage.” If you’re missing another prominent character from the 2010 gubernatorial race, try to make it to Waco: Sarah Palin’s booked to speak a pro-life nonprofit’s banquet there in September.

· Harris County finds itself with a lowered tax base for the first time in two decades — that means budget cuts. Thirty percent of the homes there declined in market value, meaning a tax drop of about 4 percent. The worst off were houses on both sides of the spectrum, those worth more than $1 million and those worth between $80,000 and $150,00. By contrast, only 1 percent of homes rose in value.

· To fuel a competitive round of “Did you know?” this weekend, look to the chock-full-of-factoids 2009 report from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. For instance: 41,000 criminals got out of prison last year. The oldest male offender is 90, the oldest female is 80. The average sentence length is 19.3. And on and on…

“We don't deliberately drop people from the school. Either we have standards and give people their money's worth, or we pass everyone and make it a diploma mill. Do you think that will help San Antonio?” — UTSA Faculty Senate President Mansour El-Kikhia, on the university’s push for Tier One status.

MUST READ:

Census 'snapshot' shifts some residentsHouston Chronicle

Obama's school initiatives face opposition in Texas Washington Post

Fort Hood suicides are risingSan Antonio Express-News

Admission ImpossibleThe Texas Tribune

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