Last week, the Sierra Club announced that former EPA administrator Dr. Al Armendariz will join the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign using his “scientific expertise working on air, water, and climate science to help move Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas off coal-fired electricity and toward an economy powered by job-generating clean energy sources such as wind and the sun.” Armendariz is most famous for being forced to resign in April after Sen. James Inofe unearthed a 1 minute 51 second clip of an hour long 2 year old video of Armendariz speaking at a town council meeting in Dish, Texas in Denton County, during which he likened his enforcement strategy to a Roman conquest:
It is kind of like how the Romans used to conquer villages in the Mediterranean – they'd go into a little Turkish town somewhere and they'd find the first five guys they saw and they'd crucify them. Then that little town was really easy to manage for the next few years.
The video prompted a storm of faux right wing fury which quickly led to the resignation. At the time of that meeting in Dish, however, there was no publicity and no anger over his comments.Peggy Heinkle-Wolfe, of the Denton Record-Chronicle, was the only reporter at the famed Dish meeting, and her article is a useful record of what was actually discussed. Interestingly, the famous “roman conquest” quote did not appear anywhere in the piece. It turns out this was a substantive meeting with real concerns being addressed.
Dish is located near a nexus of natural gas pipelines within the Barnett Shale region of North Texas. Area residents have experienced numerous health problems including considerably higher rates of invasive breast cancer than the rest of the state, and developmental abnormalities such as children not developing adult teeth after losing their baby teeth. Dish residents were understandably incensed at the gas producers in the area who were not bound to report air emissions by state law. According to Heinkle-Wolfe’s piece, Armendariz spent most of the meeting assuring Dish’s citizens that the EPA would do its best to investigate these issues.
Armendariz told the crowd that he met recently with representatives from oil and gas producers and told them the agency expected them to deliver a plan within the next 30 days on how they would report all their emissions.
In an interview after the meeting, he said federal officials considered the Western Regional Air Partnership's study of oil and gas emissions in the 14 westernmost states to be a model.
“Producers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana need to take a similar regional look,” Armendariz said.
Instead of “crucifying” oil and gas producers, Armendariz was trying to use his office to protect residents from some of the energy industry's worst practices. And indeed, it was Armendariz, not big oil and gas, who was “crucified.”
Now, Armedariz can use his expertise to continue pushing for cleaner air and water for the public, even though he no longer has the regulatory power he once held. “As a third generation Texan, I'm proud to be taking on this new role to help protect Texas,” said Dr. Armendariz. “As a father and a scientist, I know how important it is to transition to cleaner sources of energy that don't pollute the air that our children breathe, and I'm proud to be working on a campaign with a proven track record for success.”
Armendariz will be based in Austin.