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Wall Street Journal

The 'Crucify Them' Presidency


Al Armendariz, the EPA official who resigned in disgrace this week, was no outlier among the Obama administration's regulators.

May 3, 2012, 8:05 p.m. ET

Link to Column 

Al "Crucify Them" Armendariz resigned from the Environmental Protection Agency this week, for the mistake of telling it like it is. All he leaves behind is an entire administration of Al Armendarizes.

EPA chief Lisa Jackson was quick to assure the public that her regional administrator-who was caught on video describing his desire to "crucify" oil and gas companies-was not "representative of the agency." Mr. Armendariz's views, she said, "don't reflect any policy that we have, and they don't reflect our actions over the past two years." At least she didn't say it under oath.

The Armendariz story matters precisely because he is the model Obama regulator. Hamstrung by both public opinion and Congress, President Obama has turned to these types to enact his broader agenda.

The regional EPA administrator was no rogue appointee. Rather, "there are Armendarizes all throughout this administration" says Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, who first drew attention to the "crucify" video. They were chosen for a purpose.

Consider the broader tale of Mr. Armendariz, lost in the wake of the sensational video. Prior to being appointed by President Obama in late 2009 to serve as EPA's point man for south-central states, Mr. Armendariz was at Texas's Southern Methodist University. His then-résumé showed a scant three years of private-sector experience, with far more time devoted to his work as an adviser to the militant fringe of the environmental community.

Mr. Armendariz's expertise-take note-was working with groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and "Downwinders at Risk" against hydraulic fracturing. Among his achievements: a cameo appearance in "Gasland," the anti-drilling propaganda film, as well as authoring a 2009 study making the wild claim that gas drilling was the cause of more air pollution in Dallas than even cars.

In other words, he was a perfect general for Mr. Obama's war against natural gas. The White House is hostile to fossil fuels, yet it has been unable to get Congress or the public to act. So it has unleashed the EPA to crack down on those industries.

The bonanza in natural gas has nonetheless been tricky for the feds, since hydraulic fracturing regulation is technically left to the states. The agency's solution has been to invent enforcement actions out of existing federal law to harass drillers.

Mr. Armendariz was on the front lines. By early 2010, the EPA boss was already making his "crucify them" comments at a public-meeting-cum-activist-rally in Dish, Texas. At this gathering, Mr. Armendariz also bragged that one of his "really special moments" had been getting the overall chief of EPA enforcement, Cynthia Giles, to watch "Gasland." He lamented that he did not have a "Way of Life Act" that he could enforce-to deal with the "truck traffic," "noise," "water use" and "waste pits" associated with natural-gas drilling.

Though he reminds the crowd that the laws he can use, like the Clean Water Act, aren't exactly "toothless."

As he proved. Within a year of arrival, Mr. Armendariz had found his first target: Fort Worth-based gas driller Range Resources. While Texas regulators had found no evidence that Range had polluted local water wells, Mr. Armendariz in December 2010 publicly bypassed them and issued an emergency order giving Range 48 hours to begin supplying water to residents and to clean up.

Emails show that Mr. Armendariz was communicating with his activists on the day of the action. "We're about to make a lot of news," he crowed in an email, advising them: "Time to Tivo Channel 8."

As it happens, "Channel 8" had the news before an aide for Mr. Armendariz had bothered to notify the state. One of Mr. Armendariz's email buddies (who included members of the Environmental Defense Fund and Public Citizen) wrote back: "Yee haw! Hats off to the new Sheriff and his deputies!" When a Texas official told Mr. Armendariz that he felt the action was "premature," the EPA appointee forwarded the email to his staff with this word: "Stunning."

Or not. Fifteen months later-after Texas regulators unanimously concluded that Range was not the cause of natural gas in local wells, after Range had sued, and after EPA was unable to find any evidence of wrongdoing-the agency withdrew its order. Turns out Mr. Armendariz had nothing more against Range than his, and his activists', disdain for fossil fuels.

His actions are no aberration. This is the "Crucify Them" presidency. Mr. Obama couldn't get a card check law passed, so his National Labor Relations Board's union lawyers sue Boeing for locating in a right-to-work state. He couldn't outlaw offshore drilling, so Interior activists continue a permitorium in the Gulf. He can't make ObamaCare work, so Health Department officials threaten to exclude insurers from exchanges if they raise premiums. He couldn't outright kill nuclear energy, so his top nuclear regulator has shut down the Yucca Mountain waste repository to strangle industry growth.

Mr. Armendariz apologized for his "words," though you might wonder why. He was picked to do a job-to "crucify" industry-and he did it. His real mistake was admitting it.