Commentary: When Texas Gov. Perry and the EPA collide

Science and politics go together about as well as natural gas and drinking water.

The combination can be dangerous, with long-term consequences. In the deep-red state of Texas, where history and economy intertwine with oil and gas, new clashes over science and politics are bubbling to the surface, threatening even more confusion.

It's tough enough for an average citizen to make a judgment on gas drilling. Advocates insist it's safe and there's never been a case of groundwater contamination. Residents cite cancer-causing emissions and say, "Check my back yard -- and take a swig of this water."

Science is supposed to settle the matter, drawing a bright line between things to fear and fear-mongering. But now we also have to decide whom to believe and whom to trust.

The Environmental Protection Agency came to Fort Worth last week, holding a public meeting as part of a new study on gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. About 600 people turned out to hear stories about "fracking," and many implored the EPA to ride to the rescue because they felt betrayed by their state.

The day before, Gov. Rick Perry went to Dallas to unveil an effort to pull together all of Texas' resources on energy, including programs at major universities. Perry was responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but part of his mission is to stay on top of fracking -- and keep the natural gas flowing in Texas.

There was nothing coincidental about Perry's timing or the EPA kicking off its study in the home of the Barnett Shale. The conflict within the conflict: Who's going to run Texas?

Perry wants to reassert the state's primacy over all things oil and gas, and extend his vision of states' rights. The federal government, through the EPA, wants to show that it can make meaningful progress in even the most hostile territory.

On the political front, this clash has been at a high pitch since President Barack Obama took office 18 months ago (although Perry knocked heads with the EPA during the Bush administration, too). Perry rejected more than $500 million in unemployment insurance funds, saying too many strings were attached. He passed on the chance for federal education grants and pushed Texas to be among the states suing over the health care law.

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