The White House today distanced itself from comments made by a regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in which he suggested government officials should take lessons from ancient Romans and “crucify” people not complying with environmental laws.
In a 2010 video brought to light by frequent EPA foe Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., EPA Region VI Administrator Al Armendariz said that he gave the following analogy to his staff about his “philosophy of enforcement,” which he acknowledged being crude and perhaps inappropriate, but shared anyway: ”It is kind of like how the Romans used to conquer villages in the Mediterranean – they’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere and they’d find the first five guys they saw, they’d crucify ‘em, and that little 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 ‘em 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.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney today noted that Armendariz has “apologized and made clear that those comments are an inaccurate way to characterize the work EPA does.”
Carney went on to argue that the comments also do not reflect Obama administration policy, saying “since the president took office, oil and gas production has increased each year. Oil is currently at an eight-year high, and domestic natural gas production is higher than at any time in history. On federal lands and waters alone, oil production is up 13 percent since the president took office. And in 2010, for the first time in 13 years, imported oil accounted for less than 50 percent of the oil consumed in America.”
Inhofe was not convinced. “With an election on the horizon,” Inhofe said in a press release, “President Obama is pretending to be a friend of oil and natural gas, claiming he’s for an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach, but Administrator Armendariz’s comments reveal the true story: while President Obama has photo ops in front of pipelines in Oklahoma, his E.P.A. is working aggressively to ‘crucify’ oil and gas producers so they can end hydraulic fracturing, knowing full well that if you stop hydraulic fracturing, you kill domestic oil and gas production.”
Said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, “The EPA has systematically targeted Texas through burdensome regulatory overreach, putting politics ahead of facts and due process. Now we know they intend to crucify energy producers in our state. It is time for the Obama Administration to get its boot off the neck of Texas job creators and either lead, follow, or just get out of the way.”
In a blog post, the assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Cynthia Giles, writes that “It is deeply unfortunate that in a 2010 video an EPA official inaccurately suggests we are seeking to “make examples” out of certain companies in the oil and gas industry. We, and the official involved, regret the statement, for which he has apologized. It does not reflect our record over the last three years.”
Asked why Armendariz was still employed at the EPA despite the president’s past calls for softening crude rhetoric, Carney said “he’s apologized and…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.” Region VI covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and dozens of tribal nations.
*I updated the headline for clarity.