EPA Official Trumpets Gas Industry as Top Lieutenant Gets Crucified
May 2, 2012
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In the wake of the resignation of a high-ranking U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official who used the word “crucify” to describe his philosophy of enforcement against polluters, other agency officials are determined not to make further utterances that could offend the oil and gas sector and other polluting industries. In fact, the agency is going out of its way to sing natural gas’ praises.
Speaking May 1 at a conference on the health effects of shale gas drilling, Bob Perciasepe, the EPA’s deputy administrator and the nation’s second-ranking environmental official, repeatedly said natural gas is going to play a significant role in the nation’s energy future. He touted the fact that U.S. oil and gas production has increased since President Obama took office in 2009.
Perciasepe also discounted arguments that the nation can have either a strong economy or environmental protection, but not both. “Our primary view on this is that it is a false debate,” he said. “Simultaneously, we can do environmental protection and have economic growth.”
With the ability to extract large volumes of natural gas locked in shale rock formations, the United States has an opportunity to be “that innovative shining light for energy development,” he proclaimed.
Perciasepe made his comments at a conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, to discuss the health impacts of shale gas extraction. His speech came a day after Dr. Al Armendariz resigned as administrator of EPA Region 6, which oversees environmental enforcement issues in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
At a local Texas government meeting in Texas in 2010, Armendariz made the mistake of using the word “crucify” as a synonym for “punish.” In a video of his speech that started circulating widely shortly before he resigned, Armendariz said, “It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go in to a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw, and they’d crucify them. And then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”
By making examples out of companies that pollute and are not complying with the law, “you hit them as hard as you can” to act as a “deterrent” to others, he said.
As a high-ranking official in the nation’s environmental police force, Armendariz’s enforcement policy appeared to be a sound one. The EPA, in theory, exists to protect human health and the environment. But Armendariz quickly found out that when a government official speaks bluntly about cracking down on corporate polluters, his or her days on the job are numbered.
No one in the Obama administration offered Armendariz any public support as the lunatic fringe in Congress and their partners in the corporate press called for his ouster. In his resignation letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Armendaris said, “As I have expressed publicly, and to you directly, I regret comments I made several years ago that do not in any way reflect my work as regional administrator. … I have come to the conclusion that my continued service will distract you and the agency from its important work.”
In an April 30 statement, Sharon Wilson, Gulf regional organizer for the environmental group Earthworks, said that when Armendariz resigned, “drilling-impacted communities lost a champion in the fight to improve the fracking industry’s lamentable track record of sacrificing community health and clean water for the sake of maximizing corporate profits.”
“Dr. Armendariz exemplified much of what an environmental regulator should be: expert on the issues, and concerned for the public and the environment before all else—not to the exclusion of all else, but before all else,” Wilson said. “In other words, he exemplified the very reason the Environmental Protection Agency exists.”
Wilson said Armendariz’s resignation also is regrettable because “it may signal a premature end of what is a much-needed public conversation about what effective environmental enforcement is.”
Armendariz’s call for punishing companies that break the law to deter other companies from breaking the law is the justification behind most criminal penalties, “especially in Texas” where that argument “amounts to the holy writ when it comes to punishing criminal persons … except apparently, in cases when the criminal person happens to be a corporation.”
Back in Washington, instead of supporting one of his top lieutenants in the field who had worked hard to protect human health and the environment, Perciasepe, EPA’s second-most powerful official, was busy praising the gas industry’s ability to create jobs and trumpeting the decades’ worth of gas supplies. It is “undeniable that natural gas will play a key role in our nation’s energy future,” he told the audience at the Institute of Medicine conference.