US energy sector welcomes resignation of top EPA official

30 April 2012 20:13  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US energy industry officials on Monday welcomed the departure of a senior federal environmental official who suggested that US oil and natural gas producers should be “crucified” with enforcement actions to compel compliance.

The official, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regional director Al Armendariz, resigned from the EPA on Sunday amid controversy over remarks he made at a 2010 event.

In that speech, Armendariz used a metaphor to illustrate his philosophy on how federal environmental enforcement policies should be implemented.

“It’s kind of how the Romans used to conquer the villages in the Mediterranean,” he said in a video recording of the event, “they’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere and they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them. Then that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”

The video was released last week by Senator James Inhofe (Republican-Oklahoma). 

Although Armendariz quickly apologised for the remarks, Inhofe and others on Capitol Hill demanded his resignation.

In the US House of Representatives, the Republican leaders on the Energy and Commerce Committee asked EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to compel Armendariz to appear before the panel as soon as this week.

They said they would issue a formal subpoena if necessary to force his appearance.

Although Armendariz has left EPA, he would still be subject to a congressional subpoena.

The resignation did not mollify energy industry officials.

Thomas Pyle, president of energy sector think tank Institute for Energy Research (IER), said that Armendariz’s resignation “does nothing to stop the regulatory assault on traditional energy producers currently led by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson”.

He said that Armendariz’s comments were symptomatic of “the arbitrary and punitive enforcement strategy that has developed at the EPA in the last three years” of the Obama administration.

Leaders in the US energy, refining and petrochemicals sectors also have broadly accused the Obama administration of using regulations to inhibit oil and gas production and of being hostile to hydrocarbon energy.

The American Energy Alliance (AEA), an energy industry advocacy group, also welcomed the resignation but said that “the loss of one regulator will not change the culture of arbitrary enforcement and politicised rule-making that has developed at Lisa Jackson’s EPA”.

AEA senior vice president Daniel Kish urged Congress to investigate how widely the “crucifixion philosophy” is held in the EPA.

Senator Inhofe said he welcomed the resignation but also called for a broad congressional inquiry into EPA enforcement policies and practices.

“It was only right for administrator Armendariz to resign today,” Inhofe said, but “his choice of words revealed the truth about the war that EPA has been waging on American energy producers under President Obama”.

Inhofe, a long time and vocal critic of President Barack Obama’s energy and environmental policies, said that “we will continue our investigation into the situations surrounding EPA’s apparent ‘crucifixion policy’”.

EPA head Jackson said on Monday that Armendariz’s resignation was a difficult decision but one that would “avoid distracting from the important work of the agency”.

Jackson said earlier that Armendariz’s 2010 comments do not reflect EPA’s views on enforcement.

The resignation and Armendariz’s comments are likely to become part of the US political rhetoric as the national elections on 6 November draw near.

By: Joe Kamalick
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