EPA, Armendariz Blasted at House Hearing

Al Armendariz, the former head of the EPA's Region 6, cancelled his plan to testify before a U.S. House committee on June 6, 2012.
Al Armendariz, the former head of the EPA's Region 6, cancelled his plan to testify before a U.S. House committee on June 6, 2012.

At a U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Congressional Republicans heaped criticism on Al Armendariz, who resigned this spring as head of the Environmental Protection Agency's south-central regional office after controversial comments surfaced about his regulation philosophy.

"He had a preconceived mind-set [and] viewed himself more as an executioner than as a fair umpire," said U.S Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, at the hearing, which is still ongoing.

Armendariz, who has apologized for his comments from 2010 comparing enforcement efforts against oil and gas violators to "crucifixion," had been scheduled to testify but canceled at the last minute. His appearance was voluntary, according to U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who said the cancellation came late Tuesday afternoon. "Did EPA interfere with this witness?" Upton speculated.

Congressional Republicans are expressing disappointment that Armendariz did not appear, and many cited their concern with the EPA's now-rescinded order against Range Resources, a driller the agency accused in 2010 of contaminating a water well in Parker County in North Texas. Other EPA work on hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania and Wyoming also was also criticized.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., delivered an impassioned critique of the hearing itself. "Here we go again," Rush said, adding, "When will the other side understand that the EPA stands for the Environmental Protection Agency and not the Every Problem in America Agency?" He added: "Not one scintilla of solution for the American people is going to come out of the time we're wasting today."

Rush urged that future hearings include public health witnesses.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., acknowledged that Armendariz's comments were ill-advised but criticized the EPA's bashers as "completely divorced from reality."

Two Texas regulatory officials testified at the hearing, urging the EPA to work more cooperatively with states. "It is impossible for blanket fed regs to account for the unique circumstances," said Barry Smitherman, the chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and gas drilling.

Bryan Shaw, the chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, criticized what he described as the EPA's "failure to have a just and reasonable and fair" regulatory approach. He cited the EPA's dismantling of Texas' 'flexible permitting' program — in which some large Texas factories were able to operate under a broad pollution cap rather than a cap on specific smokestacks — as an "incredible waste of money, resources," without an environmental benefit. He also criticized the EPA's delay in issuing two "aquifer exemption" permits that would allow uranium mines in Texas to proceed.

Another witness, Joel Mintz, a professor at Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad Law Center in Florida, testified that the EPA's approach to enforcement under the Obama administration did not differ significantly from the approach it has taken since the 1970s. "Rather than being uniquely overzealous or draconian, EPA enforcement in the Obama years has followed long-standing patterns, established at EPA well before 2009," his testimony states.

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