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Downtown, An Outpouring of Thanks to EPA Officials for Stepping In to Regulate Texas's Air

When U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reps dropped in last August to hear the public's thoughts on new gas drilling regulations, it was a ¡Three Amigos! sort of moment, the townspeople pleading for help wrangling with Governor Guapo and his jefes at the TCEQ.

Now that the EPA's muscled them aside and taken over issuing greenhouse gas permits in Texas, the reps from the agency were greeted with a parade of grateful activists at a public hearing downtown today.

One after another, environmentalists accustomed to uphill battles for air quality controls around the Houston Ship Channel, the Barnett shale and coal-fired power plants across the state took turns at the mic to thank regional administrator Al Armendariz and his colleagues for interceding on their behalf.

As Allison Silva with the No Coal Coalition said at a midday press conference, "EPA, you come on in and mess with Texas. We need your help."

While Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott continues to fight the EPA's move in court, the feds have taken over as the state's authority for new greenhouse gas emissions permits, saying the state made it clear it didn't plan to comply with tighter federal clean air standards. Only 20 to 30 new projects in the state are likely to require permits in the first half of the year, Armendariz suggested today, but in a Crowne Plaza meeting room today, the crowd was relatively pumped for what they said would be just a first step.

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Today's hearing, which runs till 7 p.m., is meant for public input on the EPA's new greenhouse gas regulations, but this morning's testimony was packed with complaints about state leadership and thanks to the EPA for stepping in.

Dallas County Treasurer Joe Wells and Fort Worth state Rep. Lon Burnam were among those dropping in to comment -- Burnam said Abbott's court fight is "irresponsible and arrogant," calling Rick Perry and his administration "the original founders of the 21st-century Flat Earth Society."

No industry representatives -- who usually turn up, outnumbered, to offer a counterpoint public hearings like these -- were among the morning's speakers, and Burnam said he knew why. "Business wants certainty in a regulatory environment," he said. "The governor's office is denying them that certainty."

Other states are fighting the EPA's new regulations in court, which took effect at the start of this year, but Texas is the only one that refused to enforce them in the meantime. Sal Mier, a retired director of Dallas's CDC office, and an activist for air quality controls in Midlothian, put the state's environmental practices in stark terms for Armendariz and the EPA panel. "The helpless have to shoulder the cost of collateral damage to protect the industrial profit margin," he said. "As goes Texas, so goes the nation. The powerless are depending on you, sir."

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