‘Crucify’ Comment Prompts Probe, EPA Chief's Criticism

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency said an EPA official was wrong to compare the regulator to Roman conquerers, a comment that triggered a probe from Republican lawmakers after a two-year-old video recording surfaced this week.

Al Armendariz, the Dallas-based head of EPA’s Region 6, yesterday apologized for what he said was a “poor choice of words” in saying the agency tried to make an example of polluters, the same way Romans crucified residents to quell rebellions. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said she has spoken to Armendariz, and that his comments “don’t comport with our record.”

The videotaped remarks from a 2010 meeting in Dish, Texas, led Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, to say the comment showed President Barack Obama intended to shut down U.S. energy exploration. The Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today wrote Armendariz to seek memos, e-mails, notes and other information about his enforcement policies, and said they would have a hearing soon at which they want him to testify.

‘Significant Concerns’

“You described an enforcement philosophy that raises significant concerns about environmental enforcement both in your region and across the agency, including with respect to energy production,” said the letter, which was signed by chairman Fred Upton of Michigan and other Republicans on the committee.

Tension between Obama and U.S. energy producers has grown in the past year, as he delayed an oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast and pushed to end tax breaks for the industry. The American Petroleum Institute has paid for commercials to oppose Obama’s tax proposals.

Armendariz’s comments don’t reflect Obama’s “policy or the approach that the EPA has taken,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday at a briefing. “They are entirely inaccurate as a characterization of the work that EPA does.”

Jackson, speaking to reporters today after a speech in Washington, said she will continue to review the comments and hold additional conversations with Armendariz. She was responding to a question about whether Armendariz faces disciplinary action.

Inhofe Criticism

Inhofe criticized Armendariz’s comment on the Senate floor this week then posted the video on his website. The administrator, whose region includes Texas and Oklahoma, is shown answering a question about enforcing environmental laws, and talks about his “philosophy of enforcement.”

“It was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean,” Armendariz said on the video. “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.”

Armendariz said he tried to use the same approach to get companies to obey environmental laws: “You make examples out of people who are not complying with the law,” he said.

In his statement yesterday, Armendariz said his comment was an “offensive and inaccurate way to portray our efforts to address potential violations of our nation’s environmental laws.”

Inhofe, a frequent critic of the EPA and environmental regulations he says damage the economy, said Armendariz’s comments typify a “rogue agency” intent on increasing the price of electricity and gasoline.

“This is not just an attack on a few American energy companies -- this is an all-out war on affordable energy, an effort to stop domestic development of coal, oil and natural gas,” Inhofe said in a statement.

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