EPA Official Resigns After Taped ‘Crucify’ Comment in 2010

April 30 (Bloomberg) -- An Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator resigned after comments surfaced from 2010 in which he compared enforcing laws against polluters to Roman conquerors who crucified foes.

Al Armendariz, who had led the EPA office based in Dallas since 2009, sent a letter of resignation to agency Administrator Lisa Jackson yesterday. Jackson said she accepted the resignation.

“My continued service will distract you and the agency from its important work,” Armendariz wrote to Jackson in the letter released today by the agency. The comments “do not represent the work you have overseen as EPA administrator.” He had already apologized last week.

In videotaped remarks from a 2010 meeting in Dish, Texas, Armendariz said he told staff members enforcing environmental laws to follow the example of the Romans, who would subdue Turkish towns 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.

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

Congressional Pressure

The video was highlighted last week by Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, who said the comment showed President Barack Obama intended to shut down U.S. energy exploration. Republicans in the House of Representatives began an investigation into how Armendariz was enforcing the law, and said they would call him to testify at a hearing in Washington.

The “resignation in no way solves the problem of President Obama and his EPA’s crucifixion philosophy,” Inhofe said today in a statement, and vowed to continue to investigate the agency.

Tension between Obama and U.S. energy producers has increased 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.

Jackson, speaking to reporters on April 27, said Armendariz’s comments were both disappointing and wrong. “They are not representative of the agency, they don’t reflect any policy that we have, and they don’t reflect our actions over the past two years,” she said.

USDA Resignation

In last week’s apology, Armendariz said his comments were an “offensive and inaccurate way to portray our efforts to address potential violations of our nation’s environmental laws.”

Armendariz resigned almost two years after U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod was forced to quit when her videotaped comments on race drew criticism. In a recording posted by website biggovernment.com, Sherrod appeared to say that she didn’t help a white farmer in 1986. In fact, in the unedited video, Sherrod said she contacted “everybody I could think of” to help him.

After her forced resignation, Sherrod was offered a new job with USDA, which she declined to take.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Geimann at sgeimann@bloomberg.net