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    Officials want leeway to meet clean-air rules

    BY ERIC HANSON
    04/11/2001

    RICHMOND - Common sense, solid science and economic reality should all play a role in developing solutions to reduce air pollution in the Houston area.

    That was the consensus voiced by five members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the county judges of Fort Bend, Brazoria and Montgomery counties and others at a recent meeting concerning clean-air issues.

    Houston is under a federal mandate to reduce emissions by 2007.

    To meet that goal, a plan announced in December by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission calls for measures including sweeping cuts in industrial emissions, lower speed limits, expanded tailpipe testing and morning bans on the use of certain equipment.

    The plan, which is subject to approval in October by the Environmental Protection Agency, would affect eight counties.

    Fort Bend County Judge Jim Adolphus is critical of the commission's plan and says no evidence exists to show Fort Bend's air quality is below standard.

    Calling it one of the most important issues to be considered by Congress this year, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, said it is possible to attain clean air without resorting to measures that will cost jobs and impose hardships.

    "These goals are not mutually exclusive. We can do both if we simply apply common sense and good science to the challenges," DeLay said.

    DeLay, the House majority whip, cautioned that the difficulty of the task should not be underestimated.

    Another member of the panel, U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the EPA should consider the plan's economic impact.

    Communities should have flexibility in attaining clean air standards, he said.

    "If you can get the same results with a different plan, you ought to be able to consider the different plan," Tauzin said.

    If refineries in Houston and other petrochemical cities, such as Baton Rouge, La., are forced to shut down because of excessive emissions, the entire country could suffer from fuel shortages, Tauzin said.

    U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, said the EPA should work more closely with cities in meeting clean air goals.

    The idea that better scientific research is needed was a theme throughout the discussion as several officials criticized the EPA for relying on dated computer models to set air standards instead of actually testing air in different parts of the Houston area.

    U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, said the Clean Air Act is up for renewal next year and that he would like to see a provision exempting highway projects from being halted if an area fails to meet federal air standards.

    The EPA should realize that different parts of the country have unique air problems, he said.

    The meeting was held in the chambers of the Fort Bend County commissioners.

    Other members of the panel were U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis; Brazoria County Judge John Willy; Montgomery County Judge Alan B. Sadler; Herb Appel, president of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council; Peggy Venable, director of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy; and Jess Hibbetts, vice chairman of the Brazosport Chamber of Commerce.

    by ERIC HANSON on 4/11/01.