EPA Region 6 chief resigns over 2010 'crucifixion' remark

Al Armendariz, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 administrator in Dallas, resigned effective Apr. 30 after apologizing 4 days earlier for a 2010 videotaped remark comparing his enforcement philosophy to an ancient Roman army invading a village and crucifying a few leaders to bring everyone else into line.

“I apologize to those I have offended and regret my poor choice of words,” he said in an Apr. 26 statement. “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.”

In his Apr. 29 resignation letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Armendariz said the comments did not reflect his work as administrator in an EPA district with a significant amount of the nation’s oil and gas production, or Jackson’s work leading the federal environmental regulatory agency.

“While I feel there is much work that remains to be done for the people of this country in the region that I serve, after a great deal of thought and careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that my continued service will distract you and the agency from its important work,” he said.

In a statement, Jackson said she accepted Armendariz’s resignation, respected his difficult decision, and thanked him for his service to EPA and the country. Critics said his resignation was necessary, but added that it does not solve deeper problems at the agency.

Words revealed truth

“In his letter to Administrator Jackson, Armendariz again pointed to his 'poor choice of words' as the reason for his resignation—but Armendariz was just being honest: His choice of words revealed the truth about the war that EPA has been waging on American energy producers under President [Barack] Obama,” said US Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Environment and Public Works Committee’s ranking minority member, who discovered and circulated the video last week.

Inhofe said EPA regional offices in Wyoming and Pennsylvania, in addition to the Region 6 office in Dallas, which Armendariz led, prematurely linked water contamination to natural gas production operations in the last 2 years before retracting the allegations several months later. Inhofe said he will continue an investigation of the matter that he launched on Apr. 25.

US Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.), a House Energy and Commerce Committee member who had called for Armendariz’s firing, said the public expects an effective and professional approach to address air quality and water supply concerns instead of scare tactics.

He suggested that the next EPA Region 6 administrator should, among other things, encourage full reviews and objective studies by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the State Health Services Department; provide support for environmental and industry groups offering public comments prior to proposed TCEQ natural gas drilling permit regulations; work with local officials to address community concerns surrounding increased energy production in residential communities, including DISH and Flower Mound; support municipal governments’ oil and gas permitting, siting, and production decisions within their localities; and work with the Texas Railroad Commission on specific well water clarity complaints.

Keep focus on abuses

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman welcomed the news, but said it was only a first step toward reforming EPA’s policies. “I will not allow the Obama administration to use this resignation to shift the focus away from the EPA's abuses,” he said on Apr. 30.

Alex Mills, president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, told OGJ by phone on Apr. 30: “This is a very serious attitude of a bureaucrat that he needs to instill fear into the public to get it to follow laws and regulations. That’s scary. We’ve called upon members of Congress to investigate and see if this is an isolated incident, or the prevailing attitudes at EPA and throughout the federal government. It doesn’t happen that way in Texas, where agencies uphold the state’s laws and regulations. They don’t try to bully people and make examples of them.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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