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The Brief: May 26, 2010

Is Texas unable to take care of itself?

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THE BIG CONVERSATION

Is Texas unable to take care of itself?

That’s the impression given by the Environmental Protection Agency.  In a further illustration of tensions between Texas and the federal government, they say Texas’ system of regulating air pollution is in violation of the Clean Air Act.  Subsequently, the EPA took matters into its own hands yesterday — barring Texas from issuing an operating permit to a large Corpus Christi refinery.

The EPA called the move unprecedented, but said it was prepared to do the same in dozens of other cases — and might start doing so statewide soon.

Here’s more from Ramit Plushnick-Masti’s Associated Press report:

"For me, July 1 is a very important day," Al Armendariz, an EPA regional director, told The Associated Press. "The state of Texas has to let me know if they can issue permits that are consistent with federal requirements, and if they can't, then we will."

The decision comes after months of unsuccessful talks between the EPA and the state over how Texas issues permits that stipulate how companies should measure pollution from refineries and other petrochemical plants. It is also the latest dispute between the EPA and a state that leads the nation in the emissions of greenhouse gases and industrial pollutants.

"It is deeply troubling that unelected federal bureaucrats are willing to kill Texas jobs and derail one of the strongest economies in the country because they are more focused on process than achieving clean air," said a statement issued by the office of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Democrat Bill White is pinning this squarely on his rival in the gubernatorial race.  “Because of Rick Perry's mismanagement of the state's environmental agency, our state is now losing our ability to make our own decisions about air quality and the economy,“ White said in a statement. “While Perry will likely try to make this into a partisan issue, the truth is that the state was repeatedly warned, beginning in 2007 under President Bush, that its permitting program violated the law that granted Texas the authority to issue air pollution permits.”

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality insists its permitting system is effective.  From Randy Lee Loftis of The Dallas Morning News:

In a letter to the EPA dated Monday, TCEQ Executive Director Mark Vickery said the state understood that legal deadlines might force the EPA to take over some Texas permits while the agencies try to resolve "significant differences in opinion."

"A collaborative effort will continue to be beneficial to both agencies' limited resources and to continued protection of the environment and public health," Vickery wrote.

CULLED:

That aerial drone set to start patrolling the Texas-Mexico border is going to have some company. Yesterday, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn confirmed that 1,200 National Guard troops will be deployed to the country’s border with Mexico.  How many will be stationed in Texas is not clear, but whatever that number turns out to be, Cornyn says, won’t be enough. “While I appreciate the president's acknowledgement that his administration has done too little to secure our border, his proposal still comes up short. Temporary fixes are no solution to long-term challenges,” he said.

• Former state Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, now the Chancellor of the Texas State University System, has moved on and taken some key people with him.  Yesterday, it was officially announced that Mike Wintemute, formerly a spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, will join the system office as the director of governmental relations and communications.  McCall’s former chief of staff, Sean Cunningham, will be the vice chancellor of government relations.

• Wondering where the gubernatorial candidates are today?  Democrat Bill White will be in San Antonio to discuss transportation with city leaders including Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson.  Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Rick Perry will be in Richardson for a ribbon cutting ceremony and later in Dallas to meet with Fox executives about a Texas-bound television production.

The following House committees are meeting this morning:

            - Select Committee on Fiscal Responsibility.

            - Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee

            - Select Committee on Special Purpose Districts

            - Transportation Committee

            - Agriculture & Livestock Committee (in Alice)

“I didn't watch the news. Hell, I was the news most of the time." — Former President George W. Bush reflecting on his life in office.

MUST READ:

Big Texas Deficit Puts Governor in Tight SpotWall Street Journal

Next attempt: Pump in fluid to plug leakHouston Chronicle

State retirees to pay more for health careAustin American-Statesman

• Pressure's on DA to provide answersThe Dallas Morning News

• The Nativists are Restless — The Texas Tribune

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