* Republicans had railed against the 2010 comments
* Obama administration has been easing back on rules
* Sen Inhofe says EPA tarnished reputation of companies
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, April 30 A regional Environmental
Protection Agency chief based in Dallas resigned on Monday, days
after Republican lawmakers uncovered comments in which he
compared his enforcement of energy companies with crucifixion.
Al Armendariz, who was the chief of EPA's Region 6 office,
which includes refinery-rich Texas, Louisiana and three other
states, sent a letter of resignation to EPA Administrator Lisa
Jackson late on Sunday. She accepted it on Monday.
"I have come to the conclusion that my continued service
will distract you and the agency from its important work,"
Armendariz said in the letter.
He became a casualty in a war Republicans in Congress have
waged against a raft of EPA rules on pollution from fossil fuel
plants they say risk damaging the economy.
Lawmakers including Senator James Inhofe, a Republican and
long-time critic of the EPA, circulated a link to a video of an
Armendariz speech in May 2010, in which he compared his
enforcement strategy on energy companies that had broken the law
to that of Romans taking over towns in the Mediterranean.
"They'd go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they'd find
the first five guys they saw, and they'd crucify them," he could
be heard saying in the video, shot months after he had taken the
job. "And that town was really easy to manage for the next few
He said his strategy was to make an example of companies
that were not complying with the law, in the comments made at a
council meeting in a small Texas town.
Republicans in the House of Representatives have battled the
EPA this year, introducing bills that would slow or stop the
agency's rules on pollution.
They say the rules will lead to shutdowns of power plants
and refineries and higher energy costs for consumers as they
struggle to recover from the weak economy. The measures have
faced an uphill battle in the Democratic-led Senate.
EPA EASING UP
Still, as businesses and Republicans have complained, the
EPA has delayed several of its measures on energy. This month
the EPA delayed until 2015, part of a rule that requires natural
gas drillers that do hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to add
equipment to tackle air pollution.
Ahead of the Nov. 6 election, President Barack Obama has
been walking a fine line between promoting drilling of vast new
resources of gas that can be accessed through fracking and
regulating an industry environmentalists say can pollute air and
Armendariz was in charge when his office brought several
actions on drillers that were fracking for natural gas. In one
case his office brought an emergency order on Range Resources
alleging its operations had polluted drinking water in
Parker County, Texas.
But in the past two months the EPA has backtracked on at
least three pollution claims related to fracking, including
dropping the charges against Range.
This year the EPA conducted tests on water at 61 homes in
the small Pennsylvania town of Dimock, where Cabot Oil & Gas
Corp had fracked for gas in 2008. Since mid-March, the
agency has released test results from most of the homes showing
that the water was safe.
But Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on
Energy and Public Works, said resignation did not go far enough.
"His resignation in no way solves the problem of President
Barack Obama and his EPA's crucifixion philosophy," Inhofe said
in a release.
Inhofe is conducting an investigation into the EPA which
"tarnished the reputation of companies" by accusing them of
water contamination, he said.
The Sierra Club, an environmental group that has fought the
building of new coal plants and gas export terminals, was
unhappy with the resignation.
"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," said Ken Kramer, director of the
Sierra Club in Texas.
An industry group said Armendariz was the one serving
special interests. "There's a role for activists and there's a
role for regulators," said Steve Everley, a spokesman for Energy
in Depth, an industry-backed group that promotes natural gas
drilling. "When one becomes the other, that's when you can run