The Obama administration official under fire from congressional Republicans for using the word "crucify" in describing his enforcement strategy with oil and gas companies has resigned from U.S. EPA.
Al Armendariz, the agency's regional administrator for Texas, Oklahoma and four neighboring states, resigned in a letter yesterday to Administrator Lisa Jackson, according to Jackson's email statement to Region 6 staff. She also said she intends to travel to Dallas "in the coming days" to show her support for them.
"He came to this difficult decision because he did not want to distract from our Agency's critical work. We are all grateful for his service to EPA and our nation," Jackson said in her statement.
The email statement said the resignation is effective today, and that Deputy Regional Administrator Sam Coleman has agreed to serve as acting regional administrator.
"It has been a difficult few days for our colleagues in Region 6 -- and for all of us -- but I know Sam and the staff will continue to serve the American people with the same professionalism and commitment to excellence we have come to expect," Jackson wrote. "I also plan on traveling to Dallas to express my support and my appreciation for the region's work in the coming days."
The White House found itself on the defensive over Armendariz's comments last week after Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) released footage of Armendariz making them at a 2010 town hall meeting in Texas.
In the video, Armendariz compared his enforcement philosophy to ancient Romans crucifying villagers in towns they had overrun. He used it as an analogy for employing scarce enforcement resources by being particularly aggressive with certain lawbreakers to deter others.
"They'd find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them," Armendariz said. "And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years. And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not compliant with the law."
The comments surfaced after EPA reversed itself on a water-pollution case that Armendariz had pressed in Texas. Armendariz had issued an emergency order in December 2010 charging that Range Resources had allowed gas from its wells to leak natural gas into two homes in the Fort Worth suburbs. He ordered Range to fix the problem and supply water to the families.
EPA bailed out last month, lifting the emergency order and agreeing to dismiss the case.
"There's a role for activists and there's a role for regulators. When one becomes the other, that's when you can run into problems," said Steve Everly, spokesman for the industry group Energy In Depth. "The bigger story here was always that his comments weren't just made in isolation -- they were made just before his agency did exactly what he described in this video, grabbing the first company he saw and issuing a groundless endangerment order, which would later be proven as such. We're hopeful that the next administrator's decisions will be based more on actual science than the political stuff."
President Obama has been heavily criticized by the oil and gas industry, which casts the administration as anti-production and too quick to regulate. The administration has responded that it supports responsible development and that oil and gas production has increased since he took office.