Crucifying Oil Companies for Fun and Profit

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 27 2012 11:36 AM

Crucifying Oil Companies for Fun and Profit

136755400
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 11: Opponents of hydraulic fracturing in New York state attend a news conference and rally against hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, on January 11, 2012 in New York City. The event, which was held on the steps of City Hall, called for an end to the controversial gas drilling method as environmental groups increasingly warn about contamination of the state's aquifers that could poison its drinking water. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Sen. James Inhofe found the tape first -- video dynamite. In 2010, EPA official, Region VI Administrator Al Armendariz explained his philosophy the way he'd explained it to his enforcement team. Inhofe published it and talked it up on the Senate floor. On Thursday, this section of the video led Fox News Live.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer those villages in the Mediterranean. They'd go into a little Turkish somewhere and they'd find the first five guys they say and they'd crucify them. And then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.
Advertisement

"An EPA official appointed by President Obama," said host Bret Baier, "said that his philosophy, talking to other EPA, folks was like the Romans conquering villages, saying that oil companies should be crucified."

"It completely reflects the fact of what the EPA has been doing on energy," added Charles Krauthammer. 

Right before that show was taped, a reporter fired off this question to Jay Carney.

Jay, an EPA official has apologized now for what he said was a poor choice of words when he said in 2010 his philosophy and oil and gas enforcement was to "be like the Romans and find the first five guys and crucify them."

It started a little tete-a-tete, continuing with Carney giving away the store. The comments, he said, were "inaccurate as a representation of, or characterization of the way that the EPA has operated under President Obama." It ended when the reporter asked "if that is your policy, and if the president's approach going back to the '08 campaign was about hope and change and setting a new tone -- setting a new tone, and if somebody is saying we should crucify the industry, why is that person still working at the EPA?"

Yeah, why is he? One theory: He didn't say this was his philosophy toward oil companies. He said it was his philosophy toward companies that broke the law. Here's a fuller version of the quote, which was in the video Inhofe originally put up. (It's been taken down because of a claim by David McFatridge.)

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. And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not compliant with the law. 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. And, companies that are smart see that, they don't want to play that game, and they decide at that point that it's time to clean up.

If you're an opponent of Obama's EPA, you could argue that Armendariz is talking about enforcing regulations that are crushingly strict and should be repealed anyway. Christopher Helman, one of the journalists who decided that the first part of the quote was enough to run with, argued that Armendariz had crucified companies because his office had "targeted" Range Resources, a Texas drilling company, shortly after this video was made -- it was "catnip for the environmental fracktivists who insist with religious zealotry that fracking is evil." According to Helman, "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."

Did Armendariz go after the company without any previous investigation? Well, no. The EPA, acting on a complain by a family that claimed its well had been tainted, started analyzing the well and the soil in late 2010. The endangerment order came down on December 7, 2010, after those first results came in. One month ago the EPA rescinded the order, but there's still an important distinction here -- investigating a drilling company because an enviromental tests raises concerns is not exactly "crucifying" them for no reason.

Armendariz's apologized. Now, in addition to a fracking investigation that hasn't gone well, he's got a quote that'll be used to bludgeon environmentalists into the distant future. We should at least use the full quote.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 25 2014 3:21 PM Listen to Our November Music Roundup Hot tracks for our fall playlist, exclusively for Slate Plus members.