Lisa Jackson Must Go
As a result of his outrageous comments over "crucifying" oil and gas companies, Al Armendariz has resigned his post as regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency. Now it's time for his boss, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, to accept responsibility as well.
Armendariz's comments at a Dish, Texas meeting in 2010, where he spoke of "making an example" of oil and gas producers by treating them with the same rough justice the Romans applied in conquered territories, were released by the office of Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, one of the states regulated by Armendariz's regional office.
Armendariz's comments, however, are not just an indication of the immaturity and bad judgment of one high-ranking official at the EPA. They reflect a tyrannical and authoritarian mindset that permeates the agency. For a regional director of the EPA to speak as Armendariz did, stating that he intended to round up a number of respected American business leaders and crucify them, is a shocking violation of the trust that the American people put in government.
It would be interesting to know if Lisa Jackson was aware of Armendariz's comments before they became widely known. If Ms. Jackson had prior knowledge of the videotaped remarks and decided to suppress them, that in and of itself should be grounds of her dismissal. But regardless of how much she knew and when she knew it, her support for Armendariz as regional EPA director is grounds enough. Even now, after Armendariz has resigned in disgrace, Jackson is expressing appreciation for his work at the agency and "respect" for his decision to resign.
In fact, Armendariz should never have been hired in the first place. Clearly, he was not a suitable candidate if one sought a director to approach oil and gas production in a fair and even-handed manner. That, however, is not what Ms. Jackson or President Obama sought. According to his own web page, Armendariz worked for years as an environmental activist, publishing one op-ed after another in support of regulation, seemingly without concern for the interests of energy companies or for the public which relies on those companies to supply its needs.
In May 2007, Armendariz was hired by the Environmental Defense Fund to produce a study of air emissions by oil and gas producers in the Barnett Shale area of central Texas. That study was an attempt to undermine the thorough research that had already been conducted by state and federal regulators. The apparent intent was to reverse the air quality plan agreed to by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that had been approved in May 2007. Following publication of his report in January 2009, a sweeping critique that somehow required only 18 months of "research," Armendariz engaged in a series of rebuttals to industry criticism of his work. In one of his rebuttals, Armendariz referred to industry representatives as having an "unsophisticated level of understanding" resulting in "sophomoric statements." That sort of confrontational and jejune approach to regulatory debate should, in and of itself, have been enough to alert the administration to the inadvisability of hiring Armendariz.
It appears that Armendariz's contempt for those who actually work to produce energy in this country has a long history stretching back years before his hiring by President Obama and EPA Administrator Jackson. The arrogance of his remarks and the confrontational posture he has long assumed are a matter of public record, and they must have been known to Jackson before Mr. Armendariz was hired. Yet she did nothing to prevent his being hired, and she seems to have fully supported the appointment of this doubtful candidate to a position of great authority at the agency. She should accept blame and step down. If she refuses to do so, Obama should demand her resignation.
Surely the president does not condone Mr. Armendariz's remarks suggesting that as regional EPA director, he intended to round up "the first five guys" he saw and "crucify them." That kind of brutal approach, Armendariz stated, would "make examples out of them." At that point, they would play along with the administration's radical environmental goals, no matter the cost.
These remarks reflect a level of contempt for the American people that pervades the entire Obama administration, from Cass Sunstein's talk of "nudging" companies and individuals until they accede to what's good for them to the attempt by unconstitutionally appointed NLRB chair Mark Pearce to force businesses to post union-friendly material against their wishes and in violation of their rights of free speech. Obama's appointees are all too willing to resort to high-handed, extralegal tactics in support of what they view as overriding priorities of social and environmental justice. In doing so, they have become tyrants who act in the manner of Roman generals marching into defenseless villages, seizing the "first five guys," and crucifying them just for sport.
The president's support of this tyrannical behavior is proof that Obama also views himself as a bit of a Roman -- not a Roman general, to be sure, but an emperor, a Nero or Caligula. His continuing support of Attorney General Eric Holder, despite evidence that Holder may have lied under oath in connection with Fast and Furious, suggests that the president's view of American citizens as small-town boobs "clinging to their guns and religion" has not changed. Obama's entire administration, from the top down, displays this contempt for the American heartland, its citizens, and its businesses. The truth is that Armendariz was just saying publicly what gets said in private every day of the week at the White House. That's why his comments never troubled anyone in the administration -- and certainly not Lisa Jackson or the president -- until they became a political embarrassment during an election year.
For three years, in fact, Ms. Jackson has actively supported Armendariz in his crusade for greater regulation, despite the fact that in at least one important case the evidence of fracking pollution produced by his "research" was disproved and repudiated by the agency itself. Now that Armendariz has resigned, he has been replaced by Sam Coleman, the EPA official in charge of the agency's response to Hurricane Katrina. Given the fiscal and managerial ineptitude of the government's response to that event, the selection of Coleman is not exactly reassuring. A graduate of Prairie View A&M University, Coleman, like Armendariz before him, seems to have had no experience in the oil and gas business and, in fact, no real-world work experience at all. It is not known at this time whether Coleman fancies himself a Roman general.
It appears that Jackson remains adamant in her support of subordinates like Armendariz. One has to wonder how many other regional EPA directors share Armendariz's views on environmental enforcement. Like Mr. Armendariz, two other regional directors (those overseeing cases against fracking operations in Pennsylvania and Wyoming) have brought hasty accusations against oil and gas firms, only to have their "research" rejected as inadequate. Yet Administrator Jackson has taken no action to discipline or remove these two directors.
That may be because Ms. Jackson fancies herself a Roman general as well. EPA officials at the highest levels seem to think they know a lot about Roman history. The question is, how much do they know about the Constitution of the United Sates? One passage that might be of particular interest in regard to Mr. Armendariz, and to Ms. Jackson as well, appears in the Fifth Amendment. Namely, no person shall "be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." In other words, no marching into villages and crucifying the first five guys one meets -- and no activist crusades with government officials targeting American citizens and businesses with the purpose of intimidation.
Any person who possesses so little knowledge of the Constitution as to disregard the due process clause has no place in the government of the United States. How familiar with the Constitution is Ms. Jackson?
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).