Inside Politics: McCain says lack of aid to Syrian rebels is ‘shameful’

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EPA calls for new standards for soot pollution emissions

In a step that officials said would save lives, the Obama administration Friday announced new air quality standards intended to reduce the amount of soot that can be released into the air.

Environmental groups and public health advocates welcomed the move by the Environmental Protection Agency, saying it would protect millions of Americans at risk for soot-related asthma attacks, lung cancer, heart disease and premature death.

But congressional Republicans and industry officials called the proposal overly strict and said it could hurt economic growth and cause job losses in areas where pollution levels are determined to be too high.

Perhaps wary of the rule’s political risk, the administration had sought to delay the new soot standards until after the November elections. But a federal judge ordered officials to act sooner after 11 states filed a lawsuit seeking a decision this year.

Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s top air official, said the new rule was based on a rigorous scientific review. All but six counties in the United States would meet the proposed standard by 2020 with no additional actions needed beyond compliance with existing and pending rules set by the EPA, she said.

WHITE HOUSE

President promises support on gay, transgender issues

President Obama told gay supporters Friday that they will have a friend and “fellow advocate” in the White House as long as he is president.

Mr. Obama spoke to gay, bisexual and transgender guests during a White House reception. He touted his administration’s work on gay rights issues, including repealing the military’s ban on openly gay service members.

The president also referenced his recent public embrace of gay marriage. He said that while some Americans may still be evolving on same-sex marriage, he and his wife, Michelle, “have made up our minds on this issue.” The remark drew extended applause.

RELIGION

Catholic hospitals reject birth-control compromise

Sharpening an election-year confrontation over religious freedom and government health insurance rules, the nation’s Catholic hospitals Friday rejected President Obama’s compromise for providing birth control coverage to their women employees.

The Catholic Health Association was a key ally in Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul, defying opposition from church bishops to help the president win approval in Congress. But the group said Friday it does not believe church-affiliated employers should have to provide birth control as a free preventive service, as the law now requires.

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