Are your summer or fall travel plans finalized yet? If the Big Bend area is on your agenda, it looks like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants you to reconsider. Under new rules being considered, Big Bend may soon be listed as a high pollution area (or in EPA jargon a “non-attainment zone”).

Doesn’t it seem odd that all of a sudden such a rural, often considered pristine, swath of land would now fall out of compliance? That’s because the Obama Administration is seeking to implement new more stringent rules for determining air quality standards.

According to a Big Bend travel website, “there are a million acres of spectacular views, shadowy canyons, and rugged desert mountains.” I guess they forgot to mention the smog and congestion that must appear on the bureaucratic maps in Washington, DC.

It’s reported that Texas air quality standards have been steadily improving since 2000, even taking into account the state’s robust population growth. Even so, federal regulators are laying the groundwork to coerce the state into establishing new ozone “non-attainment” zones from Waco to Corpus Christi, through the Rio Grande Valley and out into West Texas.

Furthermore, the new rules will likely put the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex under further control of Washington functionaries. While the Metroplex has not met the current federal standards, they are now likely to fall under tighter scrutiny, and the zone will probably be expanded to include more counties.

What makes the EPA action even more interesting is the fact that the new oversight will bring greater federal involvment with the state’s industrial development and power plant permitting processes.

Is this an attempt by Washington to punish Texas for being an energy leader or to stifle our economy? Whatever the reason, it sure makes for interesting politics as the policy conflicts between Texas and the EPA are ratcheted to a new level.

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