An Environmental Protection Agency official is in the news this week – and not in a flattering way – for comparing the department’s regulatory enforcement to Roman crucifixion. As CBS News describes it, Region 6 administrator Al Armendariz said the EPA,
…makes “examples of people who are not complying with the law, you make examples out of them, use it as a deterrent method,” Armendariz continued. “Companies that are smart see that and they don’t want to play that, and they decide at that point that it’s time to clean up.”
Slate’s Dave Weigel points out Armendariz was referring to rule-breakers, not all oil and gas companies. But as Weigel notes, the comment carries a bit more weight due to Armendariz’s involvement in a now-halted investigation of Range Resources hydraulic fracturing operations in Texas:
If you’re an opponent of Obama’s EPA, you could argue that Armendariz is talking about enforcing regulations that are crushingly strict and should be repealed anyway. Christopher Helman, one of the journalists who decided that the first part of the quote was enough to run with, argued that Armendariz had crucified companies because his office had “targeted” Range Resources, a Texas drilling company, shortly after this video was made — it was “catnip for the environmental fracktivists who insist with religious zealotry that fracking is evil.” According to Helman, “a federal judge slapped the EPA, decreeing that the agency was required to actually do some scientific investigation of wells before penalizing the companies that drilled them.”
Did Armendariz go after the company without any previous investigation? Well, no. The EPA, acting on a complain by a family that claimed its well had been tainted, started analyzing the well and the soil in late 2010. The endangerment order came down on December 7, 2010, after those first results came in. One month ago the EPA rescinded the order, but there’s still an important distinction here — investigating a drilling company because an environmental tests raises concerns is not exactly “crucifying” them for no reason.