EPA chief: 'Crucify' comments from official are 'disappointing'

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson on Friday said an agency official’s 2010 comments comparing enforcement of clean-air laws to crucifixion are “disappointing.”

But Jackson declined to say whether the official would be fired or face any disciplinary action, saying the agency "will continue to review" the situation.

Jackson spoke publicly about the comments by Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz for the first time since Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) drew attention to them in a floor speech Wednesday, setting off a firestorm in Washington.

"I have spoken to Dr. Armendariz, I have made clear to him that I am glad he apologized because his comments were disappointing, they are not representative of the agency, they don't reflect any policy that we have, and they don't reflect our actions over the past two years, and we will continue to review and talk to Dr. Armendariz,” Jackson told reporters when asked if Armendariz would face disciplinary action.

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Jackson, who spoke to reporters after speaking at American University, stressed that the comments do not reflect EPA's philosophy on enforcing environmental laws.

"Dr. Armendariz has apologized, he has acknowledged his comments were wrong. Frankly, they were inflammatory, but they were also wrong, and they don't comport with either this administration's policy on energy, our policy at EPA on environmental enforcement, nor do they comport with our record as well. 

"I think it is important to recognize that those comments two years ago aren't accurate in any way, and I am very glad to see that he has apologized," she said, when asked if the official would be fired.

Republicans pounced on Armendariz’s comments this week, with many calling on him to resign or be fired. The GOP has used the comments as a rallying cry against Obama’s energy and environmental agenda.

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.”

The apology came soon after 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.”

The video was removed from YouTube on Friday.

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.