- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2012

Embattled Environmental Protection Agency official Al Armendariz, under fire after being caught on video bragging that he’d “crucify” oil and gas companies in order to send a message to the industry, has stepped down.

“While I feel there is much work to be done for the people of this country in the region that I serve, after a great deal of thought and consideration, I have come to the conclusion that my continued service will distract you and the agency from its important work,” he said in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. His resignation took effect Monday.

The former head of EPA’s Region 6, Mr. Armendariz was responsible for oversight and regulatory enforcement in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico — some of the nation’s most potent energy-producing states. His 2010 “crucify” statement, offered at a Texas town hall meeting, was first revealed last week by Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican.

Mr. Inhofe produced a video of Mr. Armendariz apparently responding to a question about the agency’s enforcement strategy and its ability to keep oil and gas companies in line.

“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 said. “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.”

The remarks immediately drew harsh criticism from across the energy sector and from many congressional Republicans, some of whom called for Mr. Armendariz’s firing. Ms. Jackson accepted his resignation over the weekend and acknowledged on Monday that the “crucify” quip had become a major distraction for the agency.

“I respect the difficult decision he made and his wish to avoid distracting from the important work of the agency,” she said.

The comments, critics think, offered a rare glimpse into the EPA’s true agenda: to shut down the American coal, oil and natural gas industries through new rules and regulations. Mr. Inhofe, for example, has launched an investigation into what he’s dubbed the Obama administration’s “war on fossil fuels,” a coordinated effort to crush the sectors while directing taxpayer money to wind, solar and other renewable-energy projects.

“Armendariz was just being honest,” Mr. Inhofe said in a statement. “His choice of words revealed the truth about the war that EPA has been waging on American energy producers under President Obama. “We will continue our investigation into the situations surrounding EPA’s apparent crucifixion victims.”

One such victim has been EnCana Oil & Gas, which the EPA blamed for water contamination in the small town of Pavillion, Wyo. Late last year, the agency released a draft report blaming the company’s use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for the pollution of groundwater in the Pavillion area.

In March, the EPA announced with little fanfare that it was postponing an independent peer-review of its initial findings in order to conduct “additional research” in conjunction with Wyoming regulators and the U.S. Geological Survey.

But Mr. Inhofe and others think that the damage had already been done. They argue that the EPA’s approach has been to demonize companies publicly to gin up opposition to fossil fuels, regardless of the facts.

“EPA tarnished the reputations of companies by accusing them of water contamination,” Mr. Inhofe said. “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.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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