House Republicans will have to wait for their chance to question former top Environmental Protection Agency official Al Armendariz, who became notorious for his pledge to “crucify” oil and gas companies in order to set a regulatory example.
Mr. Armendariz, who resigned in late April as head of the agency’s Region 6, canceled a scheduled appearance Wednesday morning before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and power. Republicans say he backed out late Tuesday without giving a reason.
“The American people deserve an explanation for the outrageous comments suggesting EPA should ‘crucify’ American companies,” said committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, and subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ed Whitfield, Kentucky Republican.
Wednesday morning was to be the first time congressional Republicans, who increasingly have taken aim at the EPA for its perceived hostile treatment of the oil, natural gas and coal industries, had a chance to confront Mr. Armendariz face to face.
It’s unclear why he bailed on the meeting, but Mr. Upton raised the possibility that the EPA had “interfered” with his scheduled appearance and convinced him to not attend.
During his time at the helm of the oil-rich Region 6 – Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico – Mr. Armendariz was caught on video in 2010 bragging of how he would “crucify” several oil and gas companies in order to set a tone of enforcement for the entire industry.
The video, recorded at a Texas town hall meeting, was first unearthed by Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican.
Mr. Armendariz stepped down less than a week after the clip hit the Web, saying he felt he had become a distraction for the embattled agency. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from seizing on his now-infamous comments.
“I was in a meeting once, and I have an analogy to my staff about my philosophy of enforcement, and I think it was probably a little crude and maybe not appropriate for the meeting, but I´ll go ahead and tell you what I said,” Mr. Armendariz says in the 2010 video. “It 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. So, that´s our general philosophy.”
Wednesday’s hearing went on without Mr. Armendariz, with the subcommittee hearing testimony from a variety of state officials who said their relationships with the EPA have deteriorated since President Obama came into office in 2009.
Robert J. Sullivan Jr., chairman of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, echoed several witnesses in saying that he believes the administration holds a clear bias against domestic fossil fuels and would instead prefer an energy sector based on renewable fuels such as wind and solar power.
“It comes from the top,” he said. “Whenever you have a president out there once a week hammering fossil fuels, it’s natural for those in various agencies [such as the EPA] to be very aggressive” in regulating and penalizing oil, gas and coal companies.
Democrats vehemently disagreed with Mr. Sullivan’s depiction of the administration’s energy policy, and suggested that Republicans had intended to turn Wednesday’s into political theater and use it as an opportunity to embarrass the administration.
“Those who oppose strong enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws have exaggerated what was said [by Mr. Armendariz] in order to make absurd attacks on EPA and the Obama administration,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat and his party’s ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee. “This is just more of the same fact-free, anti-EPA rhetoric from the Republicans.”