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A Mask-Slip Moment

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There are some people in the world, including some people high up in government, who see the world very differently from most of us.  They know that, so they keep masks on most of the time.  Every once in a while, though, the masks slip, and they show us how they really think.  Environmental law, like all laws, should be enforced by people with a basic sense of decency who seek to impose severe punishment only on those who have done serious wrong.  That is particularly true when the enforcement takes the form of criminal prosecution, as environmental law sometimes does.  But at least one person high up in the EPA doesn't think so.  The WSJ has this editorial today:
It's no secret that the bosses at the Environmental Protection Agency hate fossil fuels. But few are as candid as Al Armendariz, the regional administrator who says the agency's "general philosophy" is to "crucify" oil and gas producers.

That's how EPA chief Lisa Jackson's point man for Texas, Oklahoma and other south-central states put it in 2010 lecture. Mr. Armendariz explains that his staff's "philosophy of enforcement" is "like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They'd go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they'd find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years." The point is to "make examples" of alleged lawbreakers.

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe released video of the speech on Wednesday as part of his investigation into the EPA's now-discredited claims of water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing, including in Parker County, Texas. In that case Mr. Armendariz's shop targeted Range Resources, a driller that has since been exonerated, and his remarks about executions raise questions not only about his own work but the EPA's larger impartiality and judgment.

Julius Caesar probably would have suggested a different remedy, but Mr. Armendariz's resignation would suffice.

Armendariz has apologized for his choice of words, but the choice of words is not the problem.  The "philosophy of enforcement" he meant to convey is the problem.

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The defense bar would ordinarily be raising the roof about remarks like those Mr. Armendariz made, but I can't hear a peep out of them. This might make some cynical people think they're in the tank for the present administration, at least as long as it's picking on not-very-politically-correct targets like oil and gas producers. Fear not, though. If the administration ever looked like it was going to get tough with street thugs (say, crack dealers), the defense bar would be in full throat.

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