Image: Rick Perry
Toni Sandys  /  AP
In this Oct. 11, 2011, photo, Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry participates in a presidential debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. Perry likes to say the best way to promote economic growth is to reduce regulation.
updated 10/17/2011 9:10:09 AM ET 2011-10-17T13:10:09

Gov. Rick Perry likes to say the best way to promote economic growth is to reduce regulation. When it comes to the environment, Perry has made Texas one of the most industry-friendly states in the nation.

Perry has cut funding for clean air programs and sued the Environmental Protection Agency to avoid enforcing laws to make the air cleaner. As part of his Republican presidential campaign, he routinely blasts the White House for tightening environmental standards.

"As president, I would roll back the radical agenda of President Obama's job-killing Environmental Protection Agency," Perry wrote recently in an op-ed for the New Hampshire Union-Leader. "Our nation does not need costly new federal restrictions, especially during our present economic crisis."

Those positions get big applause at Republican debates and fundraisers, and also provide insight into how he would govern if elected, particularly when it comes to the EPA.

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Video: Gov. Perry: I’m not worried about polls (on this page)

In Texas, Perry signed a state budget that slashes funding for the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality from $833.3 million to $565.5 million over the next two years. In his budget proposal, Perry had provided even less: $552.5 million. Texas boasts the second largest environmental agency in the world, behind only the EPA; the state agency had requested $882.6 million just to maintain current programs.

The cuts were part of the governor's plan to slash $15 billion in state spending to cope with revenue shortfalls in the sagging economy. Environmentalists complained that the cuts will hurt the most effective clean air programs in the state, including ones that were helping to reduce auto emissions.

Perry used the EPA as his punching bag during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, and he is using the federal agency as a foil again in the presidential race

Executives in the state's oil and gas industry, the nation's largest, say they have enjoyed a cooperative relationship with the Texas' environmental agency, despite tougher federal rules.

"Texas always has been, and has continued to be under Governor Perry, one of the states where it's a more friendly regulatory environment," said David Blackmon, director of government relations for Houston-based El Paso Corp. The national natural gas company operates the nation's largest interstate pipeline system, which runs through 29 states.

Federal regulations have increased under Perry's tenure, but Texas has implemented fewer new rules than most other states. Blackmon said the real difference between states is the administrative costs of obtaining permits.

He said the Texas agency has "reached out to business and found solutions that not only cleaned up the air, but did it in a way that has a minimal impact on our ability to do business."

Video: Perry, Romney both ‘consistent’ conservatives? (on this page)

Until recently, emissions from Texas refineries were aggregated across an entire facility, rather than having each smokestack inspected and rated individually to see if it complied with federal law. The Obama administration determined that the aggregated calculation allowed refineries to violate the Clean Air Act and ordered an end to the practice. Perry condemned the decision and the state filed suit.

Businesses frequently complain about regulation, but there is little evidence that it is any worse now than in the past or that it is costing significant numbers of jobs. Most economists believe there is a simpler explanation: Companies aren't hiring because there isn't enough consumer demand.

Larry Soward, a Perry-appointed member of the Texas agency's three-member ruling commission from 2001 to 2007, said the environmental agency's stance reflects the state's political culture.

"The oil and gas industry is the biggest of those industries and has a stature that gives them a lot more respect and influence than the public or the environmentalists," said Soward, who is now a critic of the agency.

Soward said that even though air quality in Texas has improved during Perry's tenure, the credit goes to increasing federal regulations, not state initiatives.

Story: Perry makes jobs and energy pitch in speech

With the budget cuts, the agency "simply won't have the resources, budgetary or staff-wise, to really provide a rigorous scrutiny over air quality permits or more rigorous inspections or enforcement," he said.

The final budget reduced the number of assessments and inspections from 146,534 to 130,140 authorized, or 11 percent less than the commission recommended.

Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for the Texas environmental agency, said the commission will try to meet its original goals on air pollution, but assessing waterways may be more difficult.

The commission will also have to cut back on programs that promote cleaner motor vehicles by reducing the emissions from diesel engines and older cars and trucks, she said.

The reduced funding, as well as other legislative changes made to the incentive programs will result in fewer grants and emissions reductions, Morrow wrote in an email.

Cyrus Reed, the Texas legislative director for the Sierra Club, said the state may lose the progress it's made toward cleaner air.

Video: Perry, Romney both ‘consistent’ conservatives? (on this page)

"We've had to come forward with citizen suits to get the law enforced," Reed said. "It's not our job to launch citizen suits, but we've had to do it in Texas."

Another new measure made tightening air quality permits on the oil and gas industry more difficult. That law, which Perry signed in June, requires the Texas environmental agency to analyze the effect of new regulation on the economy — including how it might hurt a company — before implementation. The economic impact could override the environmental benefit of the new regulation.

The new law reflects Perry's contention that global warming is a questionable theory and that regulation always creates an adverse business climate.

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During an August campaign swing through New Hampshire, Perry said of climate change, "I don't think, from my perspective, that I want to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven, and from my perspective, is more and more being put into question."

Texas releases more heat-trapping carbon dioxide — the chief gas in the greenhouse effect — than any other state, according to government data.

In February 2010, Texas became the first state to sue the EPA for declaring that greenhouse gases are dangerous and subject to federal regulation.

A few months later, the EPA became so frustrated with how Texas was enforcing air quality laws that it took away the commission's authority to grant air pollution permits to some refineries. The state has filed suit to go back to the old rules.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Gov. Perry: I’m not worried about polls

  1. Transcript of: Gov. Perry: I’m not worried about polls

    LAUER: All right, Kelly O'Donnell , thank you very much . Texas Governor Rick Perry joins us now. Governor Perry , good morning. Good to see you.

    Governor RICK PERRY (Republican, Texas): Good morning, Matt. How are you?

    LAUER: I'm doing fine, thanks. We have a lot to talk about, let's jump right in. Back in August you jumped into this race. Immediately you had 38 percent of support from likely primary voters. Today that support is at 16 percent, according to the latest NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll. What happened?

    Gov. PERRY: Well, polls are going to go up and down. I mean, it's going to be a long race, so I don't worry too much about polls. I know a lot of people obsess with them and watch with them and talk about them. I'm more worried about those people out there who don't have a job in America . And that's the reason I'm in Pittsburgh today laying out a jobs plan that clearly shows within 100 days when I'm the president of the United States , without having to deal with Congress , opening up those federal lands ...

    LAUER: Right.

    Gov. PERRY: ...and waters, pulling back those regulations that are killing jobs, and rebuilding the EPA , we can do that and get 1.2 million working.

    LAUER: And I want to talk more...

    Gov. PERRY: That's what Americans are concerned about.

    LAUER: I want to talk more about your plan, your economic plan in a second. You say polls go up and down, though, but you have lost more than half of your support in about a seven-week period and I'm wondering if you think you can put your finger on any particular reason why that's happening.

    Gov. PERRY: Well, I've run for office now three times as the governor of the state of Texas , my numbers have been up, they've been down. And again, I don't worry about those. I go out every day and try to do my job, in this case laying out a jobs plan so that someone sitting around the living room who doesn't have a job, doesn't have the dignity of a job, knows that there's somebody on that stage that's going to focus on creating the environment where they can get back to work and take care of their family.

    LAUER: And I get where you're trying to take me here, Governor, but I do want to talk about the comments that your wife, Anita , made on Thursday. She said that you are being brutalized by your opponents and your own party. Do you feel you've been singled for unfair criticism anything more than any of the other candidates have endured during this early primary process?

    Gov. PERRY: Family members always take these campaigns a little more personally than the candidates do. I've been shot at and missed and shot at and hit for 20 years running for public office . And being the chief executive officer of the state of Texas we have our ups and downs. But the fact is those are just distractions. Americans want to hear a conversation about who's going to get this country back working again. And that's what I'm staying focused on.

    LAUER: But...

    Gov. PERRY: So I hope at 10:00 Eastern time this morning that you got cameras there covering a speech that is truly going to get America focused on the most important issue of this campaign.

    LAUER: And we absolutely...

    Gov. PERRY: That is getting this country back working again.

    LAUER: And we will have cameras there. But I want -- I'm sorry to keep harping on this...

    Gov. PERRY: Good on you.

    LAUER: ...but when Anita said she thinks so much of it is that "I think they look at him because of his faith," I feel it's a little ironic because the issue of faith was really introduced, the can of worms was opened by a surrogate of your own campaign while introducing you recently who said that you are a genuine follower of Jesus Christ , and then Pastor Jeffress went out to the hallway and said that the Mormon religion is a cult and that Mitt Romney is not a true Christian. So isn't it a bit hypocritical to say you're being targeted because of your faith when it was a surrogate for your campaign that introduced faith in the first place ?

    Gov. PERRY: Well, I think you're stretching it to say that he was a surrogate. He was picked and he made his comments on his own. We've distanced ourselves from those comments. I've clearly said that I did not agree with his comments and that stands on its face. But if we're going to spend the time in the campaign defending what someone who has endorsed us has said out there in the public, President Obama 's going to spend a lot of time talking about defending people who are saying things about him that he probably doesn't stand by. So again, these are all distractions, Matt , and I understand the issue of distractions. We've got to get this country focused on getting back to work.

    LAUER: You talk about your economic plan...

    Gov. PERRY: And we're laying out a plan today that does that.

    LAUER: One of the centerpieces of that plan is energy production, opening up federal lands and waters to energy exploration. That's going to take a long time. The lawsuits alone for that are going to go through courts for years. How's it going to help in the short term getting people back to work?

    Gov. PERRY: Well, I'm not sure that you have to have that type of legal system that locks down the opening up of our federal lands and waters. We passed some significant tort reform in Texas ; I think you need to do that at the federal level to stop that type of activities. Shorten the permitting periods of time. What I would do is pull back all of these job-killing regulations that this administration has sent forward and sent forward in conjunction with an activist environmental community working hand-in-hand with this administration. And also build the EPA . Let it become an agency where you clearly have its appropriate role...

    LAUER: Right.

    Gov. PERRY: ...of making decisions between states , if there's conflicts, but allowing those decisions to flow back to the states . I'll promise you, men and women who are in the environmental divisions in the states know well better how to take care of those communities whether it's the air or the water. Their kids are living there, it's their future, it's their generations that they're taking care of.

    LAUER: Governor Rick Perry . Governor Perry , thank you for your time this morning. I appreciate it. I know you're very busy.

    Gov. PERRY: Thank you, Matt.


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