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Southern California’s air quality board moved forcefully Friday to weaken pollution regulation in the region, firing the agency’s longtime executive and reaffirming support for smog rules sought by oil refineries and other major polluters.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District board dismissed Barry Wallerstein in a 7-6 vote during a closed-door session, a month after Republicans took control of the panel as part of a campaign to adopt rules that are friendlier to businesses.

Wallerstein, 62, was appointed executive officer in 1997, presiding over the agency charged with protecting the health of 17 million people in the nation’s smoggiest region. His tenure spanned a period in which air quality across the Southland has improved dramatically but remains far from meeting federal health standards.

The dismissal came just three days after board members first gave notice of their intention, posting an agenda item to evaluate his performance. The board named Michael O’Kelly, the air district’s chief financial officer, to serve as acting executive officer.

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