The story of former federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region VI Administrator Al Armendariz’s having likened his regulation enforcement philosophy to that of the ancient Romans
—enter a town, crucify five men, and thus intimidate everyone and ensure compliance for years to come—hit the media, cyberspace, Congress, and the Obama Administration hard last week.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, delivered an extensive floor speech
condemning Armendariz’s shocking remarks and promising an investigation into EPA’s enforcement philosophy. He described in detail abusive enforcement actions by EPA in three cases in Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania—cases in which EPA eventually backed off, but not before causing significant harm to the businesses they’d targeted.
The House Energy & Commerce Committee announced
that it would investigate whether Armendariz’s enforcement philosophy resulted in an “abuse of public trust.” Members of the committee sent him letter
“seeking detailed information about the agency’s enforcement practices and requesting his presence at a future hearing to explain his inflammatory comments.”
Brian Shaw, Chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said
, “While he has a long history as an environmental activist, I hope Dr. Armendariz recognizes that this position is too important to be used as a podium for environmental activism. I urge Dr. Armendariz to use sound science in his decisions.” The EPA Region VI office is in Texas, and Armendariz is a former professor at Southern Methodist University, located in Dallas. Before joining EPA, he was an environmental activist with Environmental Defense, WildEarth Guardians, Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, and Downwinders at Risk—“information that is not disclosed on his EPA bio,” points out Paul Chesser
of the National Legal and Policy Center.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson rebuked Armendariz for the remarks, later saying to the press, “… I'm glad he apologized, because his comments were disappointing; they're not representative of the agency; they don't reflect any policy that we have; and they don't reflect our actions over the past two years.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney sought to distance the Obama Administration from Armendariz’s remarks, saying, “What he said is clearly not representative of either this president's belief in the way we should approach these matters or the way [the president] has approached these matters.”
, saying, “It was an offensive and inaccurate way to portray our efforts to address potential violations of our nation's environmental laws. I am and have always been committed to fair and vigorous enforcement of those laws.” But the fact that his apology came two years after his original remarks and only under pressure not only from critics but also from his own superiors in the EPA makes his apology less than fully credible.
On Sunday, April 29, Armendariz resigned, saying in a letter to Jackson
, “I have come to the conclusion that my continued service will distract you and the agency from its important work.” Inhofe said the resignation would not stop the investigation he’s launching.
Many EPA critics aren’t buying Obama Administration assurances that Armendariz’s “crucify” remarks don’t really represent EPA enforcement philosophy. They have good reason. Inhofe’s floor-speech recital of abuses is just the tip of the iceberg.
A friend of mine—an EPA scientist involved in regulatory enforcement, and whose name I've withheld at his request to protect him from retaliation by superiors—commented, “His comments not only were in utterly poor taste but also betray his gung-ho enforcement, make-businesses-pay-heavily philosophy that is endemic to EPA and even more so under this current Administration.”
Another friend—owner of a company that helps businesses comply with environmental regulations—has reported frequent abuses of power by EPA.
“Power tends to corrupt,” Lord Acton famously said, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
EPA has become an ongoing, living illustration of Acton’s insight.
Part of the problem is a changing understanding of the purpose of government. America’s Founding Fathers were committed to the understanding that government existed by consent of the people, to serve the people, not to rule over them. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States vest sovereignty not in any federal or state government but in the people themselves.
Their understanding reflected that of St. Augustine, who in commenting on Genesis 1:28, in which God commanded mankind to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth,” pointed out that it did not say men were to have dominion over men.
Unfortunately, all too many in American government today—of both parties, and at all levels—have come to see government as ruling over the people. Many in the EPA particularly have come to see it as their task not only to rule rather than serve the American people but also to subjugate people to nature, turning on its head the relationship God designed between mankind and the Earth.
This is part and parcel with the attack on the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28 common throughout the environmental movement. The Cornwall Alliance is committed to restoring to America and the world the blessings inherent in that mandate.