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EPA exec Al Armendariz resigns after controversial remarks about EPA enforcement philosophy

April 30th, 2012

From Green Right Now Reports

Speaking to a group of citizens two years ago in the tiny town of Dish, Texas, where extensive gas fracking operations had flared into a major issue, then-newly appointed EPA Region 6 chief Dr. Al Armendariz made remarks about the EPA’s enforcement “philosophy” that have now cost him his job.

Dr. Armendariz’ comments came to light last week when Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) highlighted them in a speech on the Senate floor and called for an investigation.

In the wake of Inhofe’s complaint, Dr. Armendariz, who oversaw EPA operations in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico, apologized. But he resigned today, saying he did not want a protracted fight over the incident to distract from the EPA’s important work.

Below is a video of Armendariz’ speech in Dish. In it, he likens the agency’s enforcement strategy to that of the Romans going into villages where they would crucify the first few people they found, thereby forcing submission to their control by the rest of the terrorized population.

Notice that even the EPA chief himself refers to his anecdotal analogy as “crude” and “inappropriate.”

He says he probably shouldn’t even mention it, but then he goes on to mention it…

Because the tape is hard to hear, here’s part of what he said after the village analogy: “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.”

Environmental leaders, who must have cringed over Dr. Armendariz’ ill-chosen words, were nonetheless disappointed by the loss of the EPA executive, who many saw as a strong advocate for clean air and water and appreciated his background as a scientist who understood the environmental issues he oversaw.

The Lone Star Sierra Club posted this statement:  “The resignation of Dr. Al Armendariz as Region 6 EPA administrator is a major loss for Texas.

He brought a breath of fresh air – literally and figuratively – to Texas in his vigorous enforcement of the federal Clean Air Act. He took the bold steps that have been needed for decades to move our state forward to achieving a clean and healthy environment for Texans… 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.”

Downwinders at Risk, based in Dallas, also expressed regret on its website. An excerpt: “Words cannot convey the very deep sorrow, or the immense anger this resignation generates. Sorrow that such a hard-working public servant will no longer be able to do the job he loved, and that we loved him doing. Anger that a handful of powerful polluters and their friends can so easily smear such a good person.”

A citizens group had started a petition to support Armendariz on Change.org, noting that Armendariz was a strong EPA leader and his comments, if not the best, were not that far out of line when viewed as endorsing strong government enforcement against lawbreakers.

Inhofe said he was pleased with the resignation but still considers the Obama Administration’s environmental policies to be too aggressive. Other elected officials in Texas had called for Armendariz’ resignation including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who also has called for the abolition of the EPA.

Before his appointment, Armendariz was a professor in the Environmental and Civil Engineering department at Southern Methodist University.  Some of his research involved identifying air pollution from natural gas wells. He took leave from that position to serve with the EPA.

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