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EPA Chief Al Armendariz has Science on His Side. Is That Enough?

April 8, 2011

Al Armendariz is the Regional Chief of the Texas EPA and he's in the middle of a battle

“I’ve decided that part of my job is to make sure that those people who don’t have lobbyists have someone looking out for them.”

Texas EPA Regional Chief Al Armendariz is an MIT graduate, a former academic professor, and the man who “confirmed that natural gas drilling was a huge contributor to smog in North Texas when nobody else could.”

He’s one of the most feared environmentalists in Texas under whose watch the “EPA has invalidated Texas-issued emissions permits, begun drafting a study of gas drilling operations and started regulating greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide for the first time.”

Confident that he has reliable science backing him, he’s taking a hard critical look at emissions from unconventional natural gas drilling development.

“Adding up emissions from lots of little sources in the gas production chain—engine exhaust from gas compressors, vents from condensate tanks where the gas is separated at the surface, leaks from valves and pipe connections, and more—Armendariz figured just how much the operations polluted, in terms of smog-forming substances like nitrous oxide and volatile organic compounds, greenhouse gases and other toxins like benzene. They published the study in February 2009.”

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in a letter “spelled out Texas’ take on greenhouse gas regulation last August, calling them ‘regulations that are plainly contrary to United States law,’ and saying the EPA’s move was a threat ‘to usurp state enforcement authority and to federalize the permitting program of any state that fails to pledge their fealty to the Environmental Protection Agency’.”

Since then, legal challenges from both the TCEQ and companies such as Range Resources have followed.

“In the end, what Armendariz is about is amassing a body of science that’ll stand up to legal challenges for years to come—that’s how he says he’ll measure success in his job. ‘We’re spending a lot of time and a lot of effort to make sure that everything we do has a rigorous scientific record,’ he says.  ‘This is a hundred-year effort, and we’re just barely getting started. What we’re trying to do now is set up a framework that will outlive us all’.”

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