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By Dean Scott
An Environmental Protection Agency regional official who had come under fire for 2010 comments in which he suggested the agency should “crucify” top polluters in the oil and gas industry has resigned, the agency confirmed April 30.
EPA Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz, in an April 29 letter to Administrator Lisa Jackson, said that while he had expressed regret for the comments, continuing in the job “will distract you and the agency from its important work.”
Jackson has named Samuel Coleman, who served as EPA's senior federal official in New Orleans during the response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as acting administrator to succeed Armendariz.
Jackson issued a statement April 30 stating that she had accepted the resignation and respected Armendariz's “difficult decision” as well as his “wish to avoid distracting from the important work of the Agency.”
EPAs Region 6 includes Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and 66 Native American tribal nations.
Armendariz’s resignation failed to satisfy Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who represent districts in Texas and other nearby states.
Reps. Joe Barton, Michael Burgess, and Pete Olson, all Texas Republicans, joined Reps. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) in arguing that the resignation “does not address our longstanding concerns with the agency’s enforcement and regulatory decision-making in Region 6, particularly within the energy sector.”
The Region 6 administrator’s resignation “highlights our concern that EPA often fails to take a balanced and measured approach to policy and enforcement decisions,” the Republican committee members said in an April 30 statement.
The Republicans said they still expect answers to concerns they raised in an April 27 letter sent to Armendariz just days before his resignation, including details of his approach to enforcement and copies of memos between Region 6 and EPA headquarters that may have discussed how that enforcement strategy was coordinated.
The Republicans said the House energy committee would hold a hearing “in the near future” on the controversy.
The resignation also was not expected to curb criticism of EPA by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and other Republicans who have alleged the agency used heavy-handed enforcement and regulation, particularly in its handling of groundwater contamination linked to hydraulic fracturing.
Matt Dempsey, Inhofe's spokesman, told BNA that “this is still a broader problem with the agency in general” and that the senator's ongoing review of EPA's analyses of water contamination in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming would continue (81 DEN A-11, 4/27/12).
In a prepared statement, Inhofe said, “It was only right for Administrator Armendariz to resign today--but his resignation in no way solves the problem of President Obama and his EPA's crucifixion philosophy.”
The Region 6 administrator's comments “revealed the truth about the war that EPA has been waging on American energy producers under President Obama,” Inhofe said.
In a May 2010 speech captured on video, Armendariz said the agency's “general philosophy” should be to “crucify” and “make examples” of the oil and gas companies that violate environmental laws to ensure that others comply.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has tangled with EPA in recent years over air pollution and other enforcement issues, issued a statement applauding Armendariz's decision to step down but said the state commission “is under no illusions that this will change the direction of the EPA.”
The Obama administration “has been unwavering in its determination to impose new regulations and new costs on Americans and American industry, often without any real scientific determination that new laws will result in any environmental benefits,” according to the commission's statement.
The Region 6 administrator's “mistake was that he slipped and unveiled the EPA's questionable and draconian enforcement philosophy,” the commission said.
But environmental groups expressed disappointment in the resignation.
Ken Kramer, director of the Texas' Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said Armendariz's resignation “is a major loss for Texas.”
The regional administrator “brought a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively, to Texas in his vigorous enforcement of the federal Clean Air Act,” he said.
“The only people who will celebrate this resignation are the polluters who continue to foul Texas air and the politicians who serve those special interests,” Kramer said.
By Dean Scott
Text of the Region 6 administrator's resignation letter is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=smiy-8tumwb.
Sen. Inhofe's floor speech April 25 discussing his investigation is available at http://bit.ly/Il81J2..
The video of Armendariz remarks in May 2010 is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WH9ctBMZLxc.
The letter of House energy committee Republicans to Armendariz is available at http://energycommerce.house.gov/news/PRArticle.aspx?NewsID=9491.
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