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Joe Barton claims that “Texas air quality is excellent” while leading the nation in carbon pollution

A recent study found “air quality in Houston is still among the worst in the nation.” Yet, as this Wonk Room cross-post makes clear, “Smokey” Joe Barton apparently lives in a different Texas.

Visiting the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in Fort Worth, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) “” who infamously apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for having to pay Gulf residents for damage caused by his company’s oil spill “” stated that the air in Texas is “excellent”:

Texas’ environmental regulators are “the best in the country,” and “Texas air quality is excellent,” U.S. Rep. Joe Barton said Friday during an event that highlighted the state’s ongoing scrap with federal authorities over air quality.

“The federal government sets the standard, but then the states implement it,” Barton said. “I think Texas has done an excellent job of not only implementing the standards but of proving they’re in compliance.”

Not only is Texas the biggest polluter in the country but it isn’t complying with federal air quality standards. Texas leads the nation in carbon dioxide emissions, and in 2008, Houston was ranked the fourth worst city for ozone “” a far cry from “excellent” air quality.

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Texas has not been in compliance with federal air quality standards since 1994, when the state submitted a system of issuing flexible air pollution limits to the EPA “” which allowed for a portion of a refinery or chemical plant to emit more pollutants than federal standards authorize as long as the total emissions did not infringe on federal air quality standards. Both the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush missed deadlines to make a decision on the Texas permitting program, but the Bush administration repeatedly sent notices insisting that they comply with federal requirements. Finally, in June 2010, the EPA published its “disapproval” of Texas’ air quality standards, stating, the Texas program “does not meet several national Clean Air Act requirements that help to assure the protection of health and the environment.”

Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has pushed back against the EPA’s decision, saying, “[u]ltimately, in this process, it is the consumer, American families, that will be picking up the tab for” stronger air quality enforcement.

Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s top air official, responded to the agency’s critics, saying that “enforcement of the Clean Air Act has saved lives and allowed the economy to grow.” In fact, the EPA just released a study which concluded that the Clean Air Act will “prevent 230,000 premature deaths and result in $2 trillion in economic benefits in 2020.”

Paul Breer