'Crucifying' EPA Regulator was Eager to Inflict Pain

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armendarizThe administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 office in Dallas, who boasted on video that he sought to “crucify” oil and gas companies as examples much like the Roman empire, has a history of environmental activism and overzealous statements.

Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma revealed the little-seen video of Al Armendariz (pictured) earlier this week, but his extremism was not a surprise to those familiar with his work in Texas when he was appointed in November 2009.

“While he has a long history as an environmental activist, I hope Dr. Armendariz recognizes that this position is too important to be used as a podium for environmental activism,” said Brian Shaw, Gov. Rick Perry’s chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s lead environmental agency. “I urge Dr. Armendariz to use sound science in his decisions.”

The former Southern Methodist University professor often worked on behalf of green activists, including Environmental Defense, WildEarth Guardians, Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, and Dallas-based Downwinders at Risk, information that is not disclosed on his EPA bio. 

The Region 6 administrator oversees EPA enforcement and policy implementation for Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, and 66 tribal nations. In the video uncovered by Inhofe, he explained his approach to enforcement in the oil- and natural gas-rich territory he regulates. 

“It was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean,” Armendariz said. “They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them.

“And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years. 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, and there is a deterrent effect there.”

According to The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (citing earlier research works), the Roman empire was the chief practitioner of torture and execution by crucifixion.

“Victims of crucifixion did not usually die for two or three days,” the encyclopedia, published in 1975, says. “Usually the victim had been severely scourged before crucifixion took place. Orthostatic collapse through insufficient blood circulating to the brain and the heart would follow shortly.” 

In one example cited by Zondervan, “Over 6,000 of the rebellious slaves who had followed Spartacus were caught by Crassus and crucified beside the Appian Way from Rome to Capua; and, as was customary, their bodies were left to rot as a warning against such insurrection.”

Although Armendariz has since apologized for what he says was “an offensive and inaccurate way to portray our efforts,” his past associations, actions and comments indicate his enforcement philosophy is intentionally harsh. “I am and have always been committed to fair and vigorous enforcement of (environmental) laws,” he said in his apology statement.

In fact, Armendariz has expressed eagerness in the past to act on regulations that had not been implemented. When some Texas homeowners in 2010 urged EPA to act because they believed gas-drilling operations contributed to asthma and other health problems, he seemed to chomp at the bit.

“If we don't have these rules, then we don't have rules to enforce,” Armendariz said, as reported by Greenwire. “We intend to move forward and move forward aggressively, but at the same time, where we don’t have regulations to enforce, it puts us in a very difficult position.” 

Not surprisingly, oil and gas have been targets of Armendariz, and his crucifixion analogy is not news to those subject to his aggression. Range Resources, a Fort Worth-based gas exploration company, was accused by Region 6 under Armendariz of contamination of drinking water in North Texas as the result of drilled wells, but the Texas Railroad Commission determined in a separate, more detailed investigation that the gas present in the water was likely the result of a shallow formation nearby. Nevertheless Armendariz issued an emergency order under the Safe Drinking Water Act that determined Range at least contributed to the water contamination. Range sought a stay, and EPA sought enforcement of the order, in court.

To date, no occurrence of contamination of drinking water has been proven to be caused by hydraulic fracturing, colloquially called "fracking."

John Riley, an attorney who helped Range make its case for the Railroad Commission and EPA, revealed Armendariz’s “crucifixion” comments during a panel discussion held in September last year. As reported by industry publication Livestock Weekly (scroll down at link), Riley told of his shock at Armendariz’s remarks.

“I’ve spent 28 years practicing law,” Riley said. “Fifteen of those years were in some form of governmental enforcement, and I’ve never heard of anyone in that entire time, even the most zealous prosecutors in the DA’s office, express themselves in such an irresponsible fashion.”

Armendariz seemed downright gleeful in December 2010 as EPA issued a press release about the emergency order against Range Resources, which was only informed about the release after he had already given interviews to the media. An email Armendariz sent to a number of environmentalist pals boasted “We’re about to make a lot of news,” and showed his utter disregard for the Railroad Commission’s investigation. One commissioner, upon notification about Armendariz’s press release, responded that it was “a premature action while we continue to investigate.”

Ultimately EPA withdrew its emergency order and the case was dismissed.

Riley explained at the panel last year that hydraulic fracturing, which environmentalists have repeatedly tried to blame for drinking water contamination, was exempted from regulation by EPA in 2005, and that EPA does not have authority to regulate fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act – despite its efforts to do so. He cited Armendariz’s enforcement philosophy as one reason for industries to not comply with requests from government regulators about their emissions and practices – voluntarily or otherwise. 

“Some might ask, ‘What’s the harm in allowing the government to have such information?’ That’s why I started with the news clip. That clip gives you an idea of why operators might be skeptical as to what the government is going to do with information provided.”

As for Inhofe, he called Armendariz’s apology “meaningless.”

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center.