EPA Administrator Al Armendariz Resigns over Crucify Comment

Al ArmendarizAl Amrendariz, EPA Region 6 administrator (Texas and surrounding states) has been hoist by his own petard. Yesterday he resigned—in disgrace. It seems nearly everyone (but anti-drillers) were calling for his resignation after a video of Armendariz came to light where he outlined his philosophy of enforcement against energy company “violators” to that of the Romans who used to enter a village, find the first five men, and crucify them—which had the effect of, shall we say, making everyone else behave themselves (see MDN’s previous story on Armendariz to watch the infamous video).

Democrats and anti-drillers are trying to spin his appropriate and justified resignation as a witch hunt by Republicans, saying his comments were from two years ago. The not-so-subtle attitude in most mainstream media coverage is that Armendariz was almost too good at doing his job and that “big oil and gas” and the Republicans had it out for him.

Here’s how the Houston Chronicle starts an article on the Armendariz resignation:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s top administrator in Texas resigned Monday amid Republican protests over 2-year-old comments in which he said the agency should "crucify" polluters as a deterrent.

Al Armendariz, a chemical engineer who never shied from the activist label, told EPA chief Lisa P. Jackson in a resignation letter that he regretted his words and did not want to be a distraction to the federal agency. She immediately accepted.

Sam Coleman, a career EPA official and Armendariz’s deputy, will lead the regional office for Texas and four adjacent states in the interim.

The resignation comes less than a week after Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and across Texas demanded that Jackson fire Armendariz over comments he made at a public forum in May 2010.

At the forum, which was recorded on video, the newly appointed Armendariz explained his enforcement strategy by referencing the way the Romans conquered villages.

"They’d find the first five guys they saw, and they would crucify them," Armendariz said. "And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not compliant with the law. Find people who are not compliant with the law, and you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them."

Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, whose office found the video, said during a speech on the Senate floor last week that the words proved the EPA’s hostility toward the energy producers. The agency quickly distanced itself from the comments.

On Monday, Inhofe, Gov. Rick Perry and others welcomed Armendariz’s resignation, but said they do not expect to see changes at the EPA. Inhofe said he still plans to hold hearings on the agency’s "crucifixion philosophy."*

But here’s the real reason he resigned in disgrace: He not only spoke about a crucifixion philosophy, he directed his office to practice it. EPA Region 6 went after Range Resources about the same time the infamous “crucify them” video was recorded. Range was accused by the EPA of polluting groundwater in Parker County, Texas. It was a lame attempt to tie hydraulic fracturing to groundwater contamination. The problem (for the EPA) is that they had no evidence—but that didn’t stop the attempt at a crucifixion of Range, which went on for nearly two years. Finally, in March, the EPA dropped the emergency order against Range and a federal judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

Perhaps the video was the flashpoint, but it was Armendariz’s actions, how he followed his words with his deeds, that did him in. But don’t worry about Al, he’ll probably end up being paid even more in a cushy job with the Obama re-election campaign.

*Houston Chronicle (May 1, 2012) – Regional EPA administrator quits over ‘crucify’ comment