The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) administrator in the South and Southwest region (Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Arkansas), Al Armendariz, has resigned after Republicans took aim at comments he made two years ago regarding how the EPA would "crucify" corporations that broke environmental laws.
An environmental engineer by training, Armendariz, often found himself at odds with the oil and gas industry. The final straw came last week, after Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), one of the most staunch opponents of climate change in government, cited a passage from a speech Armendariz gave in Dish, Texas, where residents' concerns about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing have been an issue for years.
In this passage, Armendariz is referring to how the Romans once conquered villages 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. And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not complying with the law. Find people who are not complying with the law and you hit them as hard as you can and make examples of them."
In a letter written to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Armendariz said he regretted his words, while stating they do not adequately represent the work he did in the region. Nevertheless, he told Ms. Jackson, "I have come to the conclusion that my continued service will distract you and the agency from its important work."
Sam Coleman, the deputy administrator of the South and Southwest region, a career official, will take over Armendariz's position.
Republicans have come hard after the Obama administration's energy policy -- whether it is creating national climate change laws, subsidizing renewable energy development, or regulating fossil fuel industries. In particular, the EPA has been one of the Republicans' chief targets as it tries to regulate the oil and gas industry.
The EPA is currently in the midst of its most comprehensive investigation of the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing. Its findings and recommendations will likely be the most influential piece of government research used to regulate this budding and controversial industry.
The Agency has already come under fire for the regulations it has placed on coal-fired power plants, which has led to the closure of several coal facilities in recent months.
Armendariz is not the first Obama administration environment official to be ousted for "inappropriate" comments. In 2009, after a concerted campaign from the Republican brain trust, White House environmental advisor Van Jones resigned from his position.
Image credit: EPA
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