Republicans pounced Thursday on 2010 comments in which an Obama administration official compared enforcement of environmental laws to crucifixion.
The comments by Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz gained traction this week after Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a vocal critic of the administration, highlighted them in a floor speech.
Armendariz apologized Thursday, calling the comments “an offensive and inaccurate way to portray our efforts to address potential violations of our nation’s environmental laws.”
At least five lawmakers from Louisiana and Texas have called for Armendariz to resign or be fired over the comments.
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), one of the lawmakers, called the comments “enviro-fascism at its worst.” Louisiana is one of the states in EPA's Region 6, along with Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
Other members calling for the EPA official's ouster include Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Pete Olson (R-Texas).
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pointed to the comments on Twitter, saying that the “Obama admin admits 'crucify' strategy for energy job creators.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), whose bid for the GOP White House nomination collapsed months ago, went even further, casting the comments as a reason to get rid of EPA itself.
“Another reason to all-but-eliminate EPA. Armendariz equating EPA philosophy to ‘crucifixion,’” he said over Twitter, calling the comments “unacceptable & offensive.”
Another top Republican, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), plans to question EPA about the remarks.
“He’s writing to EPA to seek clarification and express outrage with comments that are clearly at odds with the president’s prior comments on domestic energy production and that are clearly anathema to the cause of job creation,” a spokesman for Issa said.
Business and industry groups critical of EPA also smell blood in the water — the Business Roundtable and the Institute for Energy Research flagged the comments on Twitter Thursday.
Energy in Depth, an oil-and-gas industry group, is also highlighting the comments over Twitter and on its website, providing updates on the controversy including the calls for GOP members for his resignation.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Thursday called the comments at odds with the administration’s record of promoting oil-and-gas development and EPA’s approach.
He noted rising oil and natural gas production in recent years.
“The president's approach, his all-of-the-above approach to our energy needs, I think documents and proves that those comments do not reflect his policy or the approach that the EPA has taken,” Carney said.
Carney also reiterated that the regional EPA official has apologized for the remarks. “What he said is clearly not representative of either this president's belief in the way that we should approach these matters, or in the way that he has approached these matters, either from this office here in the White House or at the EPA,” Carney said at a press briefing.
Inhofe released a 2010 video Wednesday of Armendariz comparing his enforcement philosophy to that of Roman soldiers who crucified villagers in towns they wanted to conquer. He made the comments after calling the oil-and-gas sector an "enforcement priority."
“I was in a meeting once and I gave an analogy to my staff about my philosophy of enforcement. And I think it was probably a little crude, and maybe not appropriate for the meeting, but I’m going to tell you what I said,” Armendariz says in the video.
“It is kind of like how the Romans used to conquer the villages in the Mediterranean — they’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere and they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them. Then that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”
Armendariz continued: “And so, you make examples out of people who are, in this case, not complying with the law. You find people who are not complying with the law and you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them. There’s a deterrent effect there. And companies that are smart see that. They don’t want to play that game and they decide at that point that it’s time to clean up. And that won’t happen unless you have somebody out there making examples of people.”
EPA’s enforcement division works with the Department of Justice and other agencies to bring civil and criminal legal actions against companies accused of violating environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
This post was updated at 5:51 p.m. and 9:51 p.m.