Energy and Power Subcommittee Examines EPA’s Overzealous Enforcement Practices and Philosophy

June 6, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), pressed ahead with its hearing today on EPA’s enforcement priorities and practices even without the appearance of former Regional Administrator for EPA Region 6 Al Armendariz. Expected to be today’s spotlight witness, Dr. Armendariz decided to cancel his appearance late yesterday afternoon with no explanation for the last-minute decision not to appear.

Committee leaders decided to hold today’s hearing after an online video surfaced revealing incendiary comments Armendariz made about EPA enforcement relating to the oil and gas sector. His use of a crucifixion analogy raised questions for Congress and the American people about the enforcement priorities and practices at EPA. 

Chairman Whitfield called today’s hearing to explore EPA’s approach to enforcement under President Obama’s leadership. “Overall, EPA is an agency that seems to have gotten badly off track from its proper role as a measured, balanced and objective regulator,” said Whitfield.

While both Armendariz and current EPA officials declined to testify at today’s hearing, the subcommittee heard from a number of witnesses on the receiving end of EPA’s overreaching enforcement and regulatory actions. 

One of the most egregious examples of EPA’s overreach is the Range Resources case. In 2010, Armendariz’s office targeted the Fort-Worth based drilling company with claims that Range’s activity had contaminated groundwater wells. With a state investigation still pending, EPA prematurely issued an emergency order against the company and initiated federal enforcement actions. The company was then forced to spend millions of dollars to defend itself against EPA’s false allegations. After over a year of court battles, EPA ultimately dropped its order against the company.

Barry Smitherman, Chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, provided an account of the case and drew comparisons to cases in other EPA regions. “The Range Resources case is not an isolated incident. EPA has acted with similar haste in Pavillion, Wyoming, and Dimock, Pennsylvania where EPA accused oil and gas operators of groundwater contamination from their hydraulic fracturing operations without sufficient evidence to justify those accusations,” said Smitherman. “In both these cases, like with Range Resources, EPA ignored the facts and the science, whipped the public into hysteria, and then quietly backed away from its initial allegations.”

EPA’s efforts relating to Texas Flexible Air Permits provide another example of the agency’s overreach. The program had been in successful operation in the state for over 15 years when EPA decided to take control of permitting and disapprove the program in 2010. EPA subsequently forced over a hundred businesses to go through an onerous and costly “de-flexing” process for no apparent benefit. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has since challenged EPA’s actions with a decision still pending from the court. Dr. Bryan Shaw, Chairman of the TCEQ, described EPA’s “de-flex” process as “an incredible waste of time and monetary resources for both permit holders and the TCEQ for no environmental benefit.”

Today’s hearing provided important insight into the consequences of EPA’s enforcement policies, but many questions still remain. “Congress and the American people deserve answers about this administration’s policies and practices, and we intend to get them,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).

Committee members sent letters to both Dr. Armendariz and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today requesting information and documents relating to the factors that led to his decision to cancel plans to testify at today’s hearing. To view those letters, click here.