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EPA and the White House Wash Their Hands of the ‘Crucifixion’ Mess [UPDATED]

UPDATE 4/30/2012 via Fox News: Top EPA official resigns after ‘crucify’ comment

A top EPA official has resigned after coming under scrutiny for 2010 remarks in which he compared the agency’s enforcement strategy to Roman crucifixion.

Al Armendariz, the top environmental official in the oil-rich South and Southwest region, resigned in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Sunday, saying he did not want to be a distraction for the agency. The resignation is effective Monday. 

“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. As importantly, they do not represent the work you have overseen as EPA administrator,” he wrote. “I take great pride in having built a career based on integrity and hard work. These are the principles that guide me personally as well. While I feel there is much work that remains to be done for the people of this country in the region that I serve, after a  great deal of thought and careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that my continued service will distract you and the agency from its important work.”

Earlier this week, a two-year old YouTube video surfaced that floated some raw sewage in the Obama Administration’s energy punchbowl. In it, EPA Region 6 Administrator Al Almendariz, speaking to a group of Texas citizens, chuckles while comparing his agency’s environmental enforcement strategy vis-à-vis oil and gas operators to conquering Roman legionnaires’ strategy of random crucifixion. How quaint.

So the Washington politicians did what politicians have done since Roman times: go into damage-control mode and attempt to distance themselves from the offending act. From the Washington Post:

“Frankly, [the comments] were inflammatory but also wrong,” [EPA Administrator Lisa] Jackson said Friday when asked about a YouTube video discovered this week by Oklahoma Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe’s staff. “They don’t comport with either this administration’s policy on energy, our policy at EPA on environmental enforcement, nor do they comport with our record as well.”

The offending comments were uttered, not by low-level functionary deep in the bowels of EPA, but by a Presidential appointee, the Administrator of EPA Region 6. Region 6 covers “Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribal Nations” and as such is home to 56% of domestic crude oil production and 59% of natural gas production. Needless to say, statements of the Region Administrator on enforcement policy carry some weight. The tough-guy policies certainly seemed consistent with the treatment of Range Resources. Range was the subject of a Region 6 “endangerment order”, an EPA accusation of groundwater contamination that was contradicted by the scientific evidence and ultimately dropped.

Plus, these weren’t the words of a leaked internal email.

He said it in public.

In the private sector, it can be a problem when the public statements of a senior executive “don’t comport” with official policy. A recent example:

BP CEO Tony Hayward uttered the ill-advised “I’d like my life back” in the process of a public apology for the BP spill. Those five words resulted in a PR firestorm that led to Heyward’s dismissal by BP’s Board.

Twenty-nine congressmen, including all of Texas’ Republican representatives, have signed a letter calling for Almendariz’s ouster (excerpted below the fold). They have been joined in the call by Reps. Scalise, Alexander, Boustany, Fleming and Landry in Louisiana.

It is clear that [Almendariz's] deep seated biases are hindering his competent management of the office he holds. …

The men and women who work for oil and gas companies are our constituents, our friends and our neighbors. They are not criminals in need of deterrence. They are Americans who care deeply about the communities they live and work in. …

Where violations of the law take place and punishment is appropriate, there should be punishment. But no American should be subject to the spiteful whims of an Administrator who is so blinded by his ideology that he cannot discern the difference between enforcement and crucifixion.

The White House is also backing away from Almendariz’s comment. In fact, the White House totally <>hearts<> oil and gas:

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday: “The truth is better illustrated by .?.?. the impact that the administration’s policies have had, which is that oil and gas production has increased every single year that President Obama has been in office.”

This is so easily refuted as to be laughable.

First there’s this study from the Institute for Energy Research: Fossil fuel production on federal lands at 9 year low

The growth in oil and gas production has mostly been on private lands under state jurisdiction and regulation. If the Federal government deserves any credit for the increase, it is because EPA has not regulated hydraulic fracturing — but they’re thinking about it.

It is true that production of domestic oil and gas have increased each year during the Obama Administration. Officials’ ham-handed attempts to glom credit for oil production increases are ironic because the Left usually emphasizes the long lead times of oil and gas projects as a key reason to oppose them. In 2002, they opposed development of ANWR because it would take so long to bring oil to market — 10 years! — that it would hardly be worth the trouble.

No oil and gas exploration or development happens overnight. Even small onshore projects near existing infrastructure typically require six to eighteen months to satisfy all the permitting requirements and bring a well on production.

A major field would take much longer. Multiple wells are required to define the accumulation, then that estimate is used to plan the facility and pipelines required. There are usually multiple layers of permits and Environmental Impact Studies required. Ten years might be a typical delay for a really world-class field in a challenging environment like the deepwater or the Arctic.

One place where oil production has increased on Federal lands is in the Gulf of Mexico (although production remains well below levels forecast before the BP spill moratorium). A portion of the recent production increase is attributable to a handful of deepwater Gulf of Mexico fields that began producing during the Obama Administration. Of course, the plans to develop these fields were all approved under the George W. Bush Administration; some of the leases even date back to the Clinton era.

President Obama is fond of reminding people of the problems he inherited from President Bush. In oil and gas, he inherited a solution: today’s politics drive him to take credit for it, while his ideology demands he suppress it.

Crossposted at stevemaley.com.


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