Yesterday, as apparently first reported at the Daily Caller, Oklahoma Republican Senator James Imhofe revealed that Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 administrator Al Armendariz had explained his enforcement philosophy towards companies within his jurisdiction as "[C]rucify them ... Find people who are not compliant with the law, and you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them, and there is a deterrent effect there." Remember that Antagonistic Al was referring to those who are "not compliant." A YouTube video of Armendariz's remarks in fuller context is here.
The Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, in what I would hope is only its first version of coverage (but don't count on any follow-up), did its level best to minimize the significance of Armendariz's remarks, with a headline designed to make people think he only said one bad word, and content which tried to emphasize that the administrator reserves his harsh treatment only for actual lawbreakers. At Forbes, Christopher Helman has made mincemeat of that pretense in one very prominent case.
First, here's the complete but brief AP report from Ramit Plushnick-Masti (posted in full for fair use and discussion purposes):
Note how Plushmick-Masti described Armendariz's targets: "bad players in the oil and gas industry" who are "not complying with the law."
Also note the AP writer's claim that Armendariz's Roman example related to "a troublesome town." No it didn't. Armendariz didn't say or even imply that being "troublesome" was a factor as he drew the ancient portion of his analogy. He actually said the following:
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.
Antagonistic Al was referring to towns which had already been conquered, and were therefore not presumptively "troublesome." It's clear that in finding "the first five guys they saw," the Romans didn't care whether the victims were criminals or completely innocent residents.
He may not have intended it, but as Helman at Forbes notes, that narrative -- crucify first, dare anyone to challenge them later -- pretty much describes how despicably Armendariz dealt with Range Resources (bolds are mine):
... not only has Armendariz talked about crucifying oil companies, he’s tried to do it. In 2010 his office targeted Range Resources, a Fort Worth-based driller that was among the first to discover the potential of the Marcellus Shale gas field of Pennsylvania — the biggest gas field in America and one of the biggest in the world. Armendariz’s office declared in an emergency order that Range’s drilling activity had contaminated groundwater in Parker County, Texas. Armendariz’s office insisted that Range’s hydraulic fracking activity had caused the pollution and ordered Range to remediate the water. The EPA’s case against Range was catnip for the environmental fracktivists who insist with religious zealotry that fracking is evil. Range insisted from the beginning that there was no substance to the allegations.
The Armendriz video was shot around the same time he was preparing the action against Range.
... Never mind that he couldn’t prove jack against Range. For a year and a half EPA bickered over the issue, both with Range and with the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas drilling and did its own scientific study of Range’s wells and found no evidence that they polluted anything. In recent months a federal judge slapped the EPA, decreeing that the agency was required to actually do some scientific investigation of wells before penalizing the companies that drilled them.
There was no evidence that Range was breaking any law or even from all appearances violating any standard environmentally safe practices -- yet Armendariz brought out the wood and the nails and began hammering away.
So much for Antagonistic Al's video claim that he only goes after those who are "not compliant" -- and so much for AP's assertion that the "crucify" comment only refers to "bad players" who "are not complying with the law." It doesn't. Effective with Helman's post, Ramit Plushnick-Masti and the Associated Press are actively promoting a blatant falsehood, and owe their news consumers and subscribing media outlets a retraction followed by an accurate and thorough update.
How many thousand other Antagonistic Als are in federal, state, and local environmental, occupational safety, and other potentially employer-harassing enforcement? Well, if you need a clue, consider that no one in Armendariz’s audience seemed to have had an audible problem with what he said (there is inaudible humor at the end of the video, but from what I can tell it does not refer to Armendariz’s remarks).
Where does Range go to get reimbursed for the legal and other fees spent and the executive time lost over what was such an obvious frivolous presumptive strike at an industry with the potential to turn the country's energy situation completely around?
If this guy holds onto his job -- forget the "apology," which can't possibly undo Armendariz’s outlook as practiced -- we will know all we need to know about the Obama administration's regulatory mindset. You'll find it under "T" for "tyranny" ("arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuseof authority").
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.