In 2003, a Dallas Morning News editorial dubbed Republican Congressman Joe Barton “Smokey Joe” for his efforts to protect Texas polluters from pollution control requirements.

Now Smokey Joe is at it again. He has blocked an attempt in Congress to make at least some progress towards cleaning up coal-fired power plants. The issue involves a compromise plan put together by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.)that was designed to codify the first phase of the Bush EPA interstate air pollution rule (the so-called “Clean Air Interstate Rule” or CAIR), which had been struck down by a federal appeals court.

The compromise plan also would have taken away what can best be characterized as a “coal bonus” that the Bush EPA inserted into the final rule as a way to reward coal-burning companies such as Southern Company.

The plan was also designed to trigger more aggressive, long-term pollution reductions than those contained in the Bush CAIR plan. Because of this last feature, the Bush administration (chiefly the White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairman James Connaughton) has spent weeks behind closed doors trying to persuade Congress to adopt the CAIR plan in its entirety — including its relatively weak long-term pollution reduction targets.

Carper, Boucher and Dingell rejected that approach as too weak for the long-term and set about trying to promote their compromise. That prompted the politically connected Southern Company to start lobbying aggressively to kill the plan, especially because it didn’t want its coal bonus taken away. Southern wields particular clout because its head is also chairman of the power industry lobby, the Edison Electric Institute, which is a major campaign contributor to Smokey Joe — the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Because there are only a few working days left in this Congress, Carper, Dingell and Boucher hoped to proceed under a streamlined process that would require Barton’s cooperation. But yesterday, Barton said no deal. As reported in today’s Environment and Energy Daily, Barton said he wanted to spend time in the next Congress “thoroughly reviewing not only the CAIR reductions but the entire Clean Air Act.”

In other words, Barton is holding this pollution cleanup plan hostage to his desires to weaken the entire law.

As a result, according to the EPA, literally thousands of people will die prematurely from breathing dirty air. That includes hundreds of people a year in Barton’s own state. Ironically, the plan Barton rejected would also have had the effect of reducing electricity costs for Texas consumers as compared to the original Bush plan. (That’s because the “coal bonus” would have meant extra costs for states like Texas that use less coal as compared to states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.)

Southern Company is spreading disinformation. One of its lobbyists, Jeffrey Holmstead (who actually wrote the CAIR rules while head of EPA’s air pollution program), tried to blame Carper for this impasse.

But the real villain, of course, is Smokey Joe. Again.