Regulate First, Find [No] Evidence Later

Al Armendariz, the EPA regional director for Texas and the surrounding states, resigned last month after a video surfaced of his proclamation to “crucify” businesses.  Mr. Armendariz was caught on video stating, as he described it, a “crude analogy” to his philosophy of enforcement. “It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean,” he said. “They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw, and they’d crucify them.”  In doing so, the Romans demanded obedience through fear and were better suited to control the people of the new city.  Although Mr. Armendariz was [hopefully] speaking in metaphorical terms, his actions may have indicated otherwise.

On December 7, 2010 Mr. Armendariz issued an emergency order against Range Resources Corp., a natural gas company operating in the Southwestern regions of the country.  On December 8, 2010, the New York Times reported: 

Dallas-based EPA Regional Director Al Armendariz issued an emergency order yesterday against Range Resources Corp., charging that its drilling in the Barnett Shale contaminated at least two water wells with methane and benzene.


Armendariz’s order is not simply an action against the company, but a slap at regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission, whom he accused of not doing enough to help the people living near the drilling operations in the Fort Worth area.

Range Resources Corp. challenged the emergency order and after two years of litigation the evidence, or lack thereof, proved Range Resources to be correct. There was no evidence to implicate Range Resources as the source of contamination.  As a result, the emergency order was withdrawn by the EPA on March 30.  Apparently, Mr. Armendariz decided to slap the natural gas company with an order before actually doing research on the contamination.  This “regulate first, do research later” approach is not only troubling, but also indicative of Mr. Armendariz’s enforcement philosophy coming to fruition. However, is this how regulations should be enforced – obedience through fear? 

If these regulations are so vital to environmental and public health, then the EPA need not “crucify” companies to enforce them.  Everyone wants a healthier environment.  Everyone wants a healthier public.  However, what are not wanted are burdensome regulations which are implemented merely to further a personal and political agenda.  The Range Resources situation begs the question: how beneficial are these regulations?  Furthermore, who benefits from these regulations?  Mr. Armendariz and the EPA, in this situation, used regulations to further their agenda against companies rather than regulate to benefit the public and environment.  This agenda stifles the productivity of businesses and, more importantly, fails to accomplish the “goals” of environmental laws.  Next time, the EPA should research and then regulate, rather than the opposite.  If we are going to implement environmental regulations lets be sure they are for the benefit of the environment rather than a government agency.