New Mexico Regulator To Be Regional EPA Chief

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Ron Curry, a former New Mexico environmental regulator, will become the new regional head of the Environmental Protection Agency, overseeing the multi-state area that includes Texas. He replaces Al Armendariz, who resigned in the spring after a video surfaced in which he compared his oil and gas enforcement philosophy to the ancient Romans crucifying the Turks.

Curry, a native of the New Mexico town of Hobbs, just west of the Texas border, spent 2003 through 2010 as the secretary for environment under former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. According to archived news reports, he was strongly considered for the regional EPA job in 2009, when Armendariz was ultimately appointed.

“At EPA, Mr. Curry will provide valuable insight into the public health and environmental challenges facing Region Six, and will be able to offer a state’s perspective within the agency,” said David Gray, an EPA spokesman, in an email.

Region Six covers Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico. Curry will start Monday and be based out of its Dallas headquarters.

Environmentalists welcomed the news. Dave Simon, director of the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, described Curry as a "really outstanding public servant," and a "terrific selection."

"He’s smart, balanced and fair but is a strong champion for environmental protection," Simon said. Among his accomplishments, according to Simon, were "enforc[ing] laws fairly—rigorously but fairly," including winning some major settlements with polluters; restoring morale to the state's environment department; and being a "strong defender of clean water."

Curry is also an advocate for action to stop climate change, according to Simon. That's an issue sure to grab attention in Texas, which has sued the federal government (thus far unsuccessfully) to prevent greenhouse gas regulations. Simon said Curry also "helped lead New Mexico's environment department in some ground-breaking new approaches to limiting greenhouse gas emissions in New Mexico."

Terry Clawson, a spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has often been at loggerheads with the EPA over recent air-pollution rules, said in a statement: "We are happy to see a new regional administrator has been appointed. We sincerely hope that new leadership will lead to constructive dialogue with a refocus on sound science, the law and historic interpretation of Texas programs at EPA." 

Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an industry group, declined comment, saying he had little knowledge of Curry other than his appointment.

“I don’t know him, but he certainly seems to have the experience given his role in New Mexico,” said Cyrus Reed, the acting director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “He’s dealt with oil and gas production, with industrial production, with clean air issues. … From what I’ve heard about him, he’s someone who’s able to sit down with all stakeholders, all sides.”

Armendariz, who now works in Austin for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, had no comment.

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