President Obama appointed SMU professor Al Armendariz to head up the EPA’s Region VI, to fanfare from the left, in November 2009. Prof. Armendariz’s SMU web site is…spare. From his resume linked there, we learn that at the time of his appointment he was officially a research associate professor in SMU’s Department of Environmental and Civil Engineering. His last private sector experience was in 1998, when he was a chemical engineer at Radian Corp for about three years. He appears to have no serious managerial experience prior to his EPA appointment to head Region VI. From associate professor to managing a bureaucracy that spans five states, including major oil producers Texas and Louisiana, is quite a leap.
Armendariz’s list of references on his resume is a who’s who of the loony left in Texas environmental politics.
Notice two of those names: Tom “Smitty” Smith and Jim Schermbeck. Both are well-known around Texas as left-wing, anti-business agitators. Schermbeck is the left-wing filmmaker who figured prominently in former Travis County DA Ronnie Earle’s indictment of Tom DeLay a few years ago. Schermbeck often operates as Erin Brockovich’s sidekick, running around Texas creating environmental scares and then taking those to court. He once opposed a road project in Ellis County, TX, claiming that some slag used to build the road would cause major health problems for residents living near it. After exhaustive and expensive scientific studies, it turned out that there was a problem with the slag: Prolonged exposure to it could cause body odor. So Schermbeck moved on to another project, and eventually got some industrial cement kilns shut down in Midlothian, TX, driving the price of cement up by restricting supply. He also killed a few Texas jobs along the way.
Schermbeck isn’t alone in creating environmental fear out of clean air. Sean Hackbarth reports that Al Armendariz has a similar history:
Five months after talking about crucifixion, his office went after Texas-based natural gas producer, Range Resources. In 2010, EPA accused the company of contaminating drinking water through hydraulic fracturing and ordered them to supply drinking water to two local homes. At the time, Armendariz said, “We are worried about the families’ safety. It was incumbent for us to act quickly.” He also feared natural gas would leak into homes causing fires. The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates natural gas production in the state disagreed and called the order “unprecedented.”
Armendariz jumped the gun, because fifteen month later, EPA rescinded the order. Karen Harbert, President of the Institute for 21st Century Energy called it “at least the third case where EPA rushed to judgment against unconventional oil and natural gas development only to find the scientific facts didn’t support its rhetoric.”
Range Resources wasn’t the first time Armendariz unfairly attacked oil and gas producers. Shortly after the video zipped around the blogosphere, Energy In Depth wrote about some anti-energy research Armendariz put together in 2009 that “found” that “the oil and gas sector likely has greater emissions [nitrogen oxides [NOx] and volatile organic compounds [VOCs] than motor vehicles” in the Dallas-For Worth region.
Al Armendariz appears to be a typical Obama appointee — a rigidly ideological academician tied to activist radicals, with little private sector experience and next to zero managerial experience.
Update: Keeping in mind that the Dallas Observer is a lefty alternative newspaper, this profile of Armendariz in the Observer suggests that his environmental activism is motivated not by fair regulation or balancing the needs of business with protecting the environment, but by a lifelong quest for revenge. The Observer piece also details the longstanding relationship between Armendariz and the environmental activist left in Texas. His association with Schermbeck goes back a few years.
Update: Typical of an academic career, Armendariz has spent most of his career living off of government grants.