The knives are out for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) following the resignation of the agency’s senior official in Texas and four other south-central states, which is symptomatic of the mounting pushback in Congress and the courts.
Unless the EPA can find a way to build bridges with some of its critics, and enforce environmental laws more sensitively, its wings will be clipped by legislators and judges angry about the sweeping impact of its rules and concerned that it puts environmental considerations above jobs, growth and competitiveness.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz resigned on April 29 after a You Tube video showed him likening enforcement of environmental laws to Roman invaders crucifying local inhabitants to send a clear message to the rest.
“It was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean … 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,” Armendariz said.
He went on to say the same approach can encourage companies to obey environmental laws: “You make examples out of people who are not complying with the law,” according to a report in the Washington Post (“EPA official who compared enforcement to crucifixion resigns” May 1).
In a technical sense, Armendariz was right. Regulators as well as prosecutors routinely use selective prosecution, and ask courts to impose exemplary fines, to deter anyone else tempted to break the law.
But the analogy was offensive. More importantly, it was also unwise. It appeared to confirm what many critics have said: that EPA is an over-reaching agency with a messianic sense of its own mission, bent on enforcing its will on states and industries whatever the cost, and unwilling to listen to anyone else.