Last week, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe released a video of the (now former) EPA’s Region 6 (south/central states including Texas) chief Al Armendariz explaining the agency’s philosophy of enforcement. He highlights their philosophy of making examples of alleged lawbreakers, detailed in a recent piece in The Wall Street Journal titled Crucify Them:
“…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.”
Armendariz, appointed by President Obama in 2009, targeted Range Resources for this so-called “crucifixion.” Range Resources, a company with 800 employees, is best known as the first company to create gas wells in the Marcellus Shale in 2003. In 2010, Armendariz issued an emergency order claiming that Range’s drilling activities had contaminated groundwater in Parker County, Texas.
Over the course of the next year and a half, studies by the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates oil and gas drilling) showed no evidence of pollution, and a federal judge decreed that the EPA needed to actually have scientific evidence before penalizing companies. In the end, the EPA withdrew its order and the federal court dismissed their case. Thanks in part to the attention by Senator Inhofe, this case became a sort of poster child for the abuses of executive agencies intent on pushing a partisan agenda
The incident is not only a testament to why their are three branches of government, but also why corporate involvement in politics is beneficial to society as a whole. While the judicial branch can remedy executive agency action taken against corporations, the legislative branch can ensure that harmful actions are not taken again. Range Resources, a corporation that employees 800 and offers services important to creating an economically efficient way to extract natural gas that benefits consumers with lower prices, was targeted by an executive agency with a political agenda. Unsurprisingly, many of the people who support that agenda, such as NY Senator Chuck Schumer, also support stripping Range of the right to advertise and make independent expenditures when faced with overbearing government intervention.
Campaign finance regulation is supposed to prevent corruption and is not meant to silence parties. Corporate involvement is important because it ensures that government overreach in industry is kept in check. As this EPA controversy shows, corporations need a voice, too.