A top official at the Environmental Protection Agency apologized Thursday after being caught on video bragging that his agency's method of enforcing oil and gas regulations was to find a few bad actors to "crucify" and hold up as examples.
But his mea culpa didn't satisfy some Republicans in Congress, who now appear intent on pushing back hard against the increasingly controversial EPA.
"I apologize to those I have offended and regret my poor choice of words," Region 6 EPA Administrator Al Armendariz said in a statement, issued only after his 2010 comments were revealed to the public. "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."
Mr. Armendariz, whose oil-rich region includes Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, made the comments at a Texas town hall meeting two years ago. The "crucify" quip went virtually unnoticed until Wednesday afternoon, when Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, quoted Mr. Armendariz during a half-hour speech on the Senate floor.
That same day, Mr. Inhofe, a vocal critic of the Obama administration's energy policy, launched an investigation into the EPA and what he calls its strategy of using "fear" and "intimidation" to keep drilling companies in line and to convince the public that they are serious dangers to the environment.
Like many other Republicans and oil- and gas-sector leaders, Mr. Inhofe also says President Obama has launched "a war on fossil fuels," but tries to keep that assault under wraps by using little-seen regulations while publicly extolling oil and natural gas in such venues as his most recent State of the Union address.
"What he has attempted to do is kill oil, gas and coal ... but do it in a way that the American people won't be aware of it," Mr. Inhofe said. EPA officials "are able to scare people, intimidate people, and these are the very people who are hiring people and doing what's necessary to run this machine called America."
The video of Mr. Armendariz's comments quickly went viral after being posted to Mr. Inhofe's YouTube channel. Since it went up Wednesday afternoon, it has nearly 70,000 views.
It shows Mr. Armendariz, appointed by Mr. Obama, apparently responding to a question about the agency's enforcement capacity and its ability to make sure oil and gas drilling firms are following federal rules and regulations.
"I was in a meeting once, and I gave an analogy to my staff about my philosophy of enforcement, and I think it was probably a little crude and maybe not appropriate for the meeting, but I'll go ahead and tell you what I said," Mr. Armendariz said. "It was kind of like how 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. ... So, that's our general philosophy."
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