Shreveport native named interim EPA official

05 01, 2012 by Shreveport Times

A former Shreveporter has been named to fill, at least temporarily, the top regional Environmental Protection Agency slot following the resignation of his predecessor.

Al Armendariz, the Obama administration's top environmental official in the oil-rich South and Southwest, resigned after criticism over his use of the word "crucify" two years ago to describe how he would go after companies violating environmental laws.

His replacement is Shreveport native Sam Coleman, according to the EPA's Region 6 website. That designation is effective as of today, an EPA spokesman said.

Coleman graduated from Captain Shreve High School here in 1974. He earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from Prairie View A&M University then worked 10 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before joining the EPA.

He served as the EPA's senior federal official in New Orleans in August 2005 to guide the response to Hurricane Katrina and, as a result, was presented a Meritorious Presidential Rank Award in 2009. Coleman also has been involved in the cleanup of contaminated sites on the EPA's national priorities list, including the Tar Creek Site in Picher, Okla., which first was listed as one of the most contaminated hazardous waste sites in 1983.

In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson sent Sunday, Armendariz says he regrets his words and stresses that they do not reflect his work as administrator of the five-state region that includes Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Armendariz, who holds a doctorate in environmental engineering, apologized for his remarks last week. A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, told The Associated Press that Armendariz has since received death threats. His resignation was effective Monday, when he informed his senior staff.

"I have come to the conclusion that my continued service will distract you and the agency from its important work," Armendariz wrote.

Members of Congress had called for Armendariz to be fired after Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe last week highlighted Armendariz' speech in May 2010 as proof of what Inhofe refers to as EPA's assault on energy, particularly the technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

At a town hall meeting Friday in Washington, D.C., Jackson had said only that she would continue to review the case, calling Armendariz' words "inflammatory" and "wrong."

His words "don't comport with either this administration's policy on energy, our policy at EPA on environmental enforcement, nor do they comport with our record as well," Jackson said.

The speech was in Dish, northwest of Dallas, where residents' concerns over the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing helped put the issue on the national stage.

Testing, which was urged by the EPA, showed some groundwater contamination and elevated toxic air pollution after operators began using a new method — a combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling — to extract once out-of-reach natural gas.

Referring to how Romans conquered villages in ancient times, Armendariz said, "They'd go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they'd find the first five guys they saw and they'd crucify them. And so you make examples out of people who are, in this case, not complying with the law. Find people who are not complying with the law and you hit them as hard as you can and make examples of them."