Frequent readers of my column might be surprised to see that I am defending Al Armendariz, the newly resigned EPA Administrator of Region 6. In his recently revealed “crucify” comments, Armendariz was merely reflecting the view from the top—though the exact word choices may have been his own. Yet, Al, alone, is taking the fall. He resigned on April 30, and his resignation was immediately accepted by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Yes, the above is my opinion. No, I do not have any special insight into the agency. What I do have is perspective and personal experience with similar top down attitudes as found in my state of residence: New Mexico.
New Mexico’s experience is a microcosm of what is happening in the EPA and, likely, every Obama administration agency.
From 2003 to 2011, Bill Richardson was the Governor of New Mexico. Despite being the Secretary of Energy during the Clinton administration (the job currently held by Stephen Chu), Bill Richardson governed with a decidedly anti-oil and -gas ideology (Sound familiar?). The economy of New Mexico is one of the worst in the country. We joke that we’d be on the bottom of every list if not for Arkansas. Our economy is largely dependent on our abundant oil and gas resources—though we also have significant amounts of coal and uranium.
A soon-to-be-released, carefully-documented book chronicles the impact of just one of Governor Richardson’s anti-oil and anti-gas policies and concludes that it “represents a financial loss to the state’s economy of approximately $6 billion.”
Bill Richardson came into office with a $1 billion budget surplus and left with a $653 million deficit. Yes, the national economic downturn happened in Richardson’s final years—but the bad economy remains today, and New Mexico’s Governor Martinez ended her fist year with a surplus of $250 million. The difference? The attitude at the top.
Governor Richardson appointed people to head agencies who reflected his political ideology, and they built a leadership team within the agency made up of people with shared viewpoints. Likewise, President Obama has done the same. When Governor Martinez came into office, she made changes at the top.
My personal research revealed a dramatic change in how the oil and gas industry was treated from one administration to the next—though the rules hadn’t changed. The difference was in the attitude. One administration used the rules and regulations as a hammer—pounding the industry until many ultimately gave up and left the state (taking their revenues with them) and the other used them as a guideline to work with the industry to help them work within the rules.
The difference plays out like this. With hundreds of drilling rigs in operation at any given time, an inspector looking for an infraction, regardless of how diligent an operator might be, can probably find something. Under an administration looking to “crucify” an industry, the infractions are met with fines and delays. When inspectors want to work with industry, they do not look the other way. Rather, they point out the perceived problem and give the operator time to fix it. Under this scenario, honest operators with a clean record are given guidance as to how to do the right thing. Repeat offenders are treated more harshly.
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