EPA official resigns over ‘crucify’ remarks

Al Armendariz, the Environmental Protection Agency official under fire for comparing enforcement of environmental laws to crucifixion, has resigned.

Armendariz, who was EPA’s Region 6 administrator, said in an April 29 letter to Jackson that he came to the conclusion that “my continued service will distract you and the agency from its important work.”

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Armendariz — who oversaw oil-and-gas-producing states including Texas and Louisiana — drew GOP attacks last week over 2010 comments in which he compared his enforcement strategy to the way ancient Roman conquerors would use terror to keep order.

“Over the weekend Dr. Armendariz offered his resignation, which I accepted. I respect the difficult decision he made and his wish to avoid distracting from the important work of the agency. We are all grateful for Dr. Armendariz's service to EPA and to our nation,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a statement Monday.

In his resignation letter to Jackson, Armendariz reiterated that the 2010 comments did not reflect his approach to the job.

“As I have expressed publicly, and to you directly, I regret comments I made several years ago that do not in any way reflect my work as regional administrator. As importantly, they do not represent the work you have overseen as EPA Administrator,” he wrote.

Armendariz's region included Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arkansas.

A number of GOP lawmakers, shortly after a video of the crucifixion comments surfaced, called for his ouster despite his apology for the remarks.

The White House and Jackson have distanced themselves from the comments, saying they don’t reflect EPA’s views. Jackson told reporters Friday that the remarks were “disappointing.”

The video, which Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) released last week, set off a firestorm at a time when Republicans are alleging that EPA’s approach is overzealous.

“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.

President Obama appointed Armendariz to the Region 6 role in November of 2009.

Before that, he was a professor in the Department of Environmental and Civil Engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas for eight years.

Inhofe, whose office unearthed the 2010 clip, said the resignation “in no way solves the problem of President Obama and his EPA's crucifixion philosophy.” 

Inhofe and industry officials say EPA has wrongfully linked natural gas production through hydraulic fracturing to water contamination. 

They cite actions including the agency’s recent decision to drop claims against Texas-based Range Resources over alleged contamination of water wells near Fort Worth, and the separate decision to re-test waters in a Wyoming region where EPA has alleged hydraulic fracturing had led to contamination.

“The American people deserve to know why, in at least three separate cases, EPA tarnished the reputation of companies by accusing them of water contamination,” Inhofe said.

—This story was updated at 1:16 p.m. and 2:21 p.m.