Energy Week Ahead: ‘Crucify’ Comment Prompts House Inquisition

Al Armendariz, the EPA official who once joked about crucifying corporate polluters, may be in for a more modest form of torment this week at the hands of House Republicans.

Armendariz resigned his post in April as a regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency in Dallas after Republicans unearthed comments he made during a town hall comparing his approach to enforcing pollution laws to the early Romans, who he said would subdue towns in alien territory by crucifying the first five people they ran across.

“And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years,” he said in a videotaped meeting in Dish, Texas, in 2010.

For Republican lawmakers in Washington, an apology for the remarks, loss of his job and disavowals by the White House and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson aren’t enough. On Wednesday a panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will grill him about his comments and record as head of an EPA region that includes the energy-rich states of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Louisiana.

“While you have apologized for these comments, there is genuine concern that your comments reflect the agency’s overall enforcement philosophy,” committee chairman Fred Upton of Michigan and other Republican members wrote in a letter to Armendariz three days before he resigned.

Al Armendariz will have a panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee grill him Wednesday about his comments and record as EPA head of an area overseeing energy-rich states. Photo: AP GraphicsBank Close

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Al Armendariz will have a panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee grill him Wednesday about his comments and record as EPA head of an area overseeing energy-rich states. Photo: AP GraphicsBank

Armendariz was a target of industry from the moment he was tapped for the EPA position from his job as a civil engineering professor at Southern Methodist University. Before he took over in 2009, he authored a study that contended drilling is the major cause of air pollution in Dallas, a finding disputed by industry and state regulators.

Two specific issues are expected to be highlighted by lawmakers this week.

As regional administrator, Armendariz greenlighted an administrative order against gas-driller Range Resources Corp. (RRC) in late 2010, saying it caused methane to leak into a homeowner’s well. State regulators cleared Range of any wrongdoing, and the EPA settled with Range in March.

The Republican members may also bring up Chase Power Development LLC’s application for a permit from the EPA in October 2011 to build a new power plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. The agency is still considering the application, and the project remains on hold.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING:

FRACKING-METHANE: America’s Natural Gas Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute on June 4 report on methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing. Environmentalists oppose the drilling technique, known as fracking.

NUKE WASTE: U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Lisa Murkowski on June 6 will be taking part in a discussion about what to do with the country’s nuclear waste sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center. The event is being held at the Hyatt Regency in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

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