Conservative media are dutifully running with the latest faux-outrage story orchestrated by Senator Inhofe (R-OK), who is circulating comments made two years ago by regional EPA administrator Al Armendariz about the difficulty of enforcing environmental safeguards.
At a May 2010 meeting in Dish, Texas, a town plagued with pollution from natural gas operations, Armendariz was asked how regulators can "keep on top" of the "explosion" of drilling in the area. Using words that he admitted at the time were "probably a little crude" and for which he has since apologized, Armendariz compared his enforcement approach to the Romans crucifying a few to gain compliance of the many, saying that strong enforcement against oil and gas companies that "are not complying with the law" can have a "deterrent effect" on other companies who will "decide at that point that it's time to clean up." While his analogy was unfortunate, the concept of using limited enforcement resources to target major violators is common sense.
Enforcement is an enormous challenge for EPA because there are many companies that routinely ignore environmental standards. In February, the EPA identified more than 1,200 facilities across the country that are consistently out of compliance with the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Inhofe and conservative media including Fox News are claiming that Armendariz's remarks point to an Obama administration "war" on fossil fuels. In reality, the industry has recently praised the EPA for not cracking down too hard on air pollution from natural gas wells. And as energy expert Michael Levi has detailed, Obama has not taken a hostile stance to oil and gas production, contrary to the right's oft-repeated talking points. For instance, Levi noted:
Last year, Obama had his energy secretary appoint a group of industry experts and environmental authorities to advise him on shale. The team, which included prominent shale enthusiasts like Daniel Yergin and John Deutch, produced a string of recommendations that were widely seen as constructive rather than adversarial. Fuel Fix, a news service run by the Houston Chronicle, described them as an "olive branch to industry."
But on Fox News this morning, Inhofe claimed "this is all a part of Obama's war on domestic energy." And on his Fox Business show, Stuart Varney promoted the same narrative, saying "Of course there's a war on oil, that's this administration's policy!" Fox's Charles Payne responded, "It's their number one policy."
Fox has worked hard to perpetuate this myth, despite the fact that oil production is at an eight-year high, Obama is expanding drilling, and the EPA has relaxed, delayed, or cancelled many of its rules in the past year. But to argue that enforcing the law is tantamount to a "war on oil" is a stretch -- even for Fox.
Conservative media don't mention it, but it's no secret that Sen. Inhofe is bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry. Since 2007, his campaign and leadership PAC have received $600,000 from the oil and gas industry, and his top campaign donor is Koch Industries, which operates oil refineries and pipelines across the country. According to Oil Change International, Sen. Inhofe, who is the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has sided with oil and coal interests on every key vote during the 112th Congress.
Given his background, it's no surprise that Sen. Inhofe is standing up for corporate polluters at the expense of public health and environmental quality. But what's the conservative media's excuse?