Video has surfaced of a 2010 speech by Armendariz, an El Paso native and former professor at Southern Methodist University, where he seems to have contracted a bit of foot-in-mouth disease.
“I was in a meeting once, and I gave an analogy to my staff about my philospophy of enforcement,” Armendariz said. “And I think it was probably a little crude and maybe not appropriate for the meeting, but I’ll tell you what I said.”
Indeed, it is a crude analogy. Here’s what Armendariz said about how he approaches enforcement:
“It was kinda like how the Romans used to conquer those villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw, and they’d crucify them. And you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”
Then he provides some context:
“You make examples out of people who, in this case, are not complying with the law. Hit them as hard as you can and make examples out of them. There’s a deterrent factor. Companies that are smart see that, they don’t want to play that. And they decide at that point that it’s time to clean up.”
Some in the oil and gas industry and the Republican party are already having a field day with Armendariz’s comments.
Christopher Helman, a reporter for Forbes, tweeted last night “thanks Al Armendariz for confirming what we always expected.” And today he has a piece up calling for Armendariz’s resignation. David Blackmon, a natural gas industry figure affiliated with the El Paso Corporation and America’s Natural Gas Alliance, tweeted from his personal account, “Armendarez being in his Region 6 job is a national disgrace. The media should be ashamed for ignoring his behavior in office.”
Armendariz apologized in a statement emailed to StateImpact Texas. “I apologize to those I have offended and regret my poor choice of words,” he said. “It was an offensive and inaccurate way to portray our efforts to address potential violations of our nation’s environmental laws. I am and have always been committed to fair and vigorous enforcement of those laws.”
“His apology was meaningless,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe told the conservative news site The Daily Caller this morning. “You’re going to treat people like the Romans crucified the church? Get real,” he said. Inhofe was the one who brought the EPA Administrator’s comments to light in a speech on the senate floor Wednesday morning, where he called for an investigation.
Inhofe is a noted climate change skeptic and has accused the Obama administration of wanting to end the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
The EPA also sent a statement by Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Cynthia Giles on their approach to enforcement:
“Strong, fair and effective enforcement of the environmental laws passed by Congress is critical to protecting public health and ensuring that all companies, regardless of industry, are playing by the same rules. Enforcement is essential to the effectiveness of our environmental laws, ensuring that public health is protected and that companies that play by the rules are not at a disadvantage. The same holds true for companies involved in responsible and safe development of our nation’s domestic energy resources.”
The comments are likely to deepen the feud between Texas regulatory agencies and officials and the EPA. Just a few weeks ago the EPA dropped charges against a fracking company in Fort Worth, Range Resources, that it had earlier said had contaminated a private well. The couple that owns the well maintains that it was polluted by the fracking company.
Update — The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) released a response to Armendariz’s comments:
“The EPA’s ‘crucifixion’ philosophy and agenda is unacceptable and embarrassing. The EPA Region 6 director’s outlandish comments significantly cheapen the role of the state and federal regulators who strive to ensure that sound environmental rules and policies are promulgated and enforced. Furthermore, such a philosophy flies in the face of the sound science, the law, and common sense that TCEQ regularly utilizes in pursuing legitimate enforcement actions where violations do in fact exist.
We believe the way to protect human health and the environment is through vigorous enforcement, utilizing the state’s administrative procedures that are afforded to the public and the regulated community.”
And Dan Whitten, spokesperson for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, emailed a statement to StateImpact Texas that says in part:
“Mr. Armendariz’s remarks are extraordinarily troubling in that they reflect a clear bias by a regulator whose job it is to be objective in the important role of oversight. That a regulator at this level would use the word “crucify” to describe his approach to his oversight role is reckless and has no place in a serious conversation about responsible development.”)
And now the chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, Barry Smitherman, which oversees drilling in the state, has also chimed in. In an statement, Smitherman says Armendariz should be suspended and investigated:
“EPA must immediately suspend Al Armendariz and investigate all of the enforcement actions taken since he took over as Administrator. His outrageous, insensitive remarks demonstrate a clear bias against oil and gas producers. This clearly taints enforcement actions that have occurred under his watch.”
Smitherman also said he wasn’t happy with the EPA officials choice of words for personal reasons. “As a Christian, I find his use of a crucifixion analogy offensive,” he said.