A top Environmental Protection Agency official resigned Monday after comments that the agency should make examples of polluters the way Romans crucified people to quash rebellions caused a furor.
In an internal memo to EPA employees, Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said Alfredo Juan “Al” Armendariz had “offered his resignation” as regional administrator for the agency’s South Central region.
“I have accepted Dr. Armendariz’s resignation and respect the fact that he came to this difficult decision because he did not want to distract from our agency’s critical work,” Jackson wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Post.
On Friday, Jackson had distanced herself from comments Armendariz made to a Texas community two years ago, calling them a “poor choice of words.” But she stopped short of saying he would resign and declined to say whether he faced disciplinary action.
Congressional Republicans had demanded that Armendariz be fired after Oklahoma Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe’s staff discovered a YouTube video of the official’s comments in Dish, Texas, and posted a clip on the senator’s Web site. An environmental activist, he joined the Obama administration as a political appointee in 2009.
Armendariz’s remarks came during a 90-minute speech to residents of Dish, a tiny town north of Dallas where concerns over the environmental effects of a method of natural gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have dominated public debate.
Armendariz is shown in the video answering a question about enforcement of environmental laws. Noting that the analogy was “crude” and “maybe inappropriate,” he said: “It was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. 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.” He then said the same approach could prod companies to obey environmental laws: “You make examples out of people who are not complying with the law.” An audience member posted the speech on YouTube.
Inhofe’s staff came across the video while searching the Internet for an administrative order the EPA withdrew against a Texas company, Range Resources, which the agency had accused of polluting water supplies in Texas.
House Republicans representing the energy heavy South Central region Armendariz oversaw called his philosophy of enforcement “beyond the pale” and a reflection of a “petty, arbitrary and demagogic” environmental agency under President Obama.