Environmentalists are calling the resignation of EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz a major loss. Governor Rick Perry, who has often criticized the EPA, says the resignation is appropriate. The philosophy Armendariz brought to the office may have lead to his departure.
When Al Armendariz became the EPA’s regional director in 2010 oil and gas producers branded him anti-industry.
Environmentalists were elated. They had campaigned for Armendariz’s appointment and thought their concerns about air and water pollution would finally have the attention of a top official.
At the time, the soft-spoken engineer from Southern Methodist University had just conducted a study that documented high levels of smog produced by gas drilling in the Barnett Shale. He had also worked as a technical advisor for a group documenting pollution from cement kilns.
Aware of industry mistrust, Armendariz said then that he wanted to balance his passions with new responsibilities.
Armendariz: In the past I've been an environmental advocate and I saw my job as pushing government, pushing regulated interests to do the things that are available to clean the environment. I continue in my current job with the same philosophy.
In the two-and-a half years since his appointment, Armendariz has clashed with industry supporters as he tried to put his philosophy into action.
The State of Texas sued the EPA when it ordered dozens of Texas refineries and manufacturers to bring their air pollution permits into compliance with stricter federal standards.
Armendariz’s encountered resistance from state officials again when his office issued an emergency order against a drilling company for polluting Parker County drinking water. The EPA later withdrew the case.
But it was a videotape of comments he made near the time of his appointment that lead to Armendariz’s stepping down.
While speaking to a citizens’ group about gas drilling Armendariz said his approach to compliance would be like the Romans, who would enter villages they intended to conquer and “crucify” the first five guys making them examples.
Last week Republicans unearthed that videotape. Armendariz apologized for the remarks and resigned, saying he didn’t want to be a distraction.
Josh Havens from Governor Perry’s office cited the video as proof of bias.
Havens: We hope whoever takes his place will be willing to work without the personal bias against the energy producers.
But the Lone Star Sierra Club’s Ken Kramer says Armendariz was just trying to enforce the same clean air standards in Texas that are followed in every other state.
Kramer: Dr. Armendariz literally brought a breath of fresh air with his vigorous enforcement of air pollution laws that are very important in protecting the health of people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and around the state.
Armendariz's replacement is deputy regional administrator Sam Coleman who oversaw the EPA’s emergency response following Hurricane Katrina.