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EPA Enforcer Resigns After 'Crucify' Industry Strategy Revealed

Al Armendariz, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Dallas office, resigned Monday following public outcry over his remarks supporting a "crucify them" approach to enforcement of the oil and natural gas industry.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, he said that he "regret[ted] comments I made several years ago that do not in any way reflect my work as regional administrator," and "do not represent the work you have overseen as EPA administrator.

"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. Therefore I am offering my resignation, effective Monday, April 30."

Armendariz offered his resignation over the weekend, "which I accepted," Jackson said. "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."

In a video that was made in 2010 but only surfaced last week, Armendariz said his enforcement approach "was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They'd go into a little Turkish town somewhere; they'd find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years."

Range Resources Corp. appeared to be one victim of that strategy. EPA earlier this month withdrew an "imminent and substantial endangerment order" that it had issued in December 2010 against Range, saying the producer was not responsible for the contamination of water wells in the Texas Barnett Shale (see Shale Daily, April 2). The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) had come to that conclusion a year earlier after its investigation revealed that methane in the water wells had come from a gas-bearing formation other than the one targeted by Range (see Shale Daily, March 9, 2011).

As a result of Armendariz's comments, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced Monday an investigation into the EPA's enforcement approach to oil and natural gas companies. In addition, RRC Chairman Barry Smitherman welcomed Armendariz's resignation.

"Armendariz's resignation is only the first step toward reforming the EPA's misguided policies. I will not allow the Obama administration to use this resignation to shift the focus away from the EPA's abuses. We must have a full investigation of Mr. Armendariz's actions during his tenure as administrator to determine how many times he crossed the line and harmed our economy and our energy future by pursuing his extreme political agenda instead of science and fact," Smitherman said.

The scope of the investigation should include his actions taken in all Region Six states, including Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, he noted.

RRC Commissioner David Porter called on the Obama administration to appoint as a replacement a "professional who is able to work with the Railroad Commission to preserve our state's natural resources and environmental treasures while responsibly promoting development for the continued economic vitality of all Texans."

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) brought the controversial video to light last week, according to the House committee. The Obama administration has tried to distance itself from Armendariz's remarks.

"While you [Armendariz] have apologized for these comments, there is genuine concern that your comments reflect the agency's overall enforcement philosophy," wrote the committee Republicans, led by Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan and Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, in a letter to Armendariz Friday. They cited the agency's recent enforcement action brought against Range Resources as a "concrete example" of the "crucify them" strategy.

Consequently, the committee needs to "examine how enforcement policies are being developed and implemented in your region."

The American Energy Alliance (AEA), an oil and gas advocacy group, doesn't believe there will be any change in the enforcement approach of EPA, despite the exit of Armendariz. "Like a shamed Roman soldier who dishonored Caesar in battle, EPA Administrator Al Armendariz fell on his own sword today, hoping that professional suicide would save the EPA and the Obama White House from more political fallout," said AEA Senior Vice President Daniel Kish. "But there is no indication that the regulatory crucifixions that Al Armendariz's proposed will stop, despite damage-control efforts being coordinated from the Obama campaign and the White House."

Other EPA divisions in the last month and a half have backed down on other allegations of environmental problems with hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells in Dimock, PA, and Pavillion, WY (see Shale Daily, March 19).

The committee indicated -- before the announcement of Armendariz's resignation -- that it would hold a hearing into EPA's enforcement practices. It was not immediately known if the hearing would still take place.

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