The Environmental Protection Agency’s top official in the South and Southwest region—the heart of oil and gas country—resigned on April 30 after remarks he made in 2010 about crucifying energy companies that break environmental laws became public and sparked a national controversy.
Al Armendariz, appointed to the EPA post by President Obama in 2009, sent a letter to the agency's Administrator, Lisa Jackson, on April 29 apologizing for the comments, which were recorded on video, and part of his description of how he approached enforcing the region’s environmental laws. His resignation became effective on April 30.
On the video, Armendariz said that like ancient Roman conquerors, who would "crucify” local townspeople to make examples of them, he sought to make examples of oil and gas companies that violate environmental laws and thus prompt other companies to be more compliant with federal statutes.
In his letter to Jackson, Armendariz said he regretted making the comments, and added that they were not reflective of his work as administrator of the agency's region that covers Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee and a vocal EPA critic, blasted Armendariz in a floor speech last week and highlighted the comments he made in the 2010 video.
By the end of last week, the White House and EPA chief Jackson were publicly distancing themselves from Armendariz. At a public meeting, Jackson called Armendariz’s remarks “disappointing.”
With only “lukewarm support” coming from Jackson and the administration, “the writing seemed to be on the wall for him in this contested election year,” says Frank Maisano, an energy analyst with the Washington, D.C., office of law firm Bracewell & Giuliani.
Inhofe said in an April 30 statement that Armendariz's resignation “in no way solves the problem" of EPA's regulatory stance, which he termed "the war that [the agency] has been waging on American energy producers under President Obama."
Inhofe said that he and other lawmakers plan to hold hearings in the near future. “We will get to the bottom of this,” he added.