EPA official resigns after crucifixion comments go public

May 4, 2012

Al Armendariz, the top Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official for Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, has drawn fire for referring to Roman crucifixions in saying he’d make examples of environmental offenders, and that blaze has been credited for his recent resignation.

Armendariz was the Obama administration’s top environmental official in the oil-rich South Central up until last week when a two-year-old video of him making the comments was posted on the internet. Armendariz resigned last week.

Armendariz made the original remarks at a local Texas government meeting in 2010. He relayed to the audience what he described as a “crude” analogy he once told his staff about his “philosophy of enforcement.”

“It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean,” he said. “They’d go in to a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw, and they’d crucify them.

“And then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years,” he said.

Armendariz went on to say that “you make examples out of people who are, in this case, not complying with the law ... and you hit them as hard as you can ...” to act as a “deterrent” to others.

While the recent unveiling of Armendariz’ comments was primarily centered around the oil and gas industry, particularly in relation to fracking, the comments add support to the ag industry’s claims that EPA is out of control.

At the end of April, Republicans from five states introduced legislation to try to put EPA in check relating to the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Congressmen John Mica, R-FL, Nick Rahall, R-WV, Frank Lucas, R-OK, Collin Peterson, D-MN, and Bob Gibbs, R-OH, introduced legislation (H.R. 4965) which is strongly supported by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC). The bill would prevent EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) from using their clean water guidance to expand the regulatory regime under the CWA. NCBA President J.D. Alexander said the legislation would stop EPA’s intentional avoidance of the rulemaking process and Congress.

“The problem with EPA is accountability. This administration has made clear its preference to use guidance documents as opposed to going through the rulemaking process. This allows the activists-turned-government officials to avoid public scrutiny and bypass the consideration of legal, economic and unintended consequences,” said Alexander. “This is a clear violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.”

The document that triggered this bipartisan legislation was the CWA jurisdiction guidance. The draft, which was proposed by EPA and the Corps April 26, 2011, is expected to be finalized soon. The guidance essentially attempts to give EPA and the Corps jurisdiction over all types of waters under the CWA. The guidance claims to provide clarity and certainty to landowners. According to PLC President John Falen, if the guidance is finalized, the only thing livestock producers can be clear and certain about is more federal regulation and costly permits.

“This is a direct hit on the private property rights of farmers and ranchers across this country,” said Falen, who is a Nevada rancher. “We will fight hard against this administration’s ongoing efforts to curtail the private property rights of farmers and ranchers by regulating them to the brink of bankruptcy. We commend the senators for standing up for private property rights and the preservation of American agriculture.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) also wants Congress to support H.R. 4965.

“In Farm Bureau’s view, the agencies’ proposal improperly changes the law of the land,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman in a letter to House members. “The Guidance effectively eliminates the term ‘navigable’ from the Clean Water Act. It dramatically expands the scope of federal jurisdiction under the act and virtually eliminates a central precept of the act, which reserves certain waters to the exclusive jurisdiction of the states.”

AFBF says allowing the agencies to pursue the Final Guidance raises three critical considerations: (1) whether the law permits such a major policy shift to be pursued through guidance; (2) whether the agencies are exceeding the authority granted them by Congress; and (3) the profound impact this policy change would have on the economic health of the agricultural sector, which is vital to assuring a thriving national economy that produces jobs and raises living standards for all Americans.

Alexander said despite three Supreme Court rulings and a letter from 170 members of Congress opposing the guidance, EPA and the Corps have “crowned themselves kings” of every drop of water in the country. He said this bill is the best path forward in preventing the guidance from becoming reality. This legislation is subsequent to the Preserve the Waters of the United States Act, which is almost identical to the H.R. 4965, introduced by U.S. Sens. John Barrasso, R-WY, Dean Heller, R-NE, and Jim Inhofe, R-OK, March 28, 2012.

While ag industry groups continue to question EPA’s tactics, state legislatures are also asking questions.

“We will continue our investigation into the situations surrounding EPA’s apparent crucifixion victims: 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; then when the results of their study did not turn out the way they hoped, and they had no definitive evidence to make that link, they quietly walked back their accusations. We will get to the bottom of this— and we will continue looking into EPA’s actions on hydraulic fracturing beyond these three cases as well,” Inhofe said in a statement. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ