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Obama's EPA Could Be Toxic to His Re-Election Hopes

"The Obama Administration's war on coal has got to stop, and we're going to court to fight it."

-- West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, in a Wednesday email to supporters of his re-election bid touting the state's lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency's "latest job-killing regulations."

While the hot tub lovers at the General Services Administration have been surging of late and the Solyndra scandal makes the Department of Energy a contender, the agency doing the most damage to President Obama's re-election hopes still has to be the EPA.

The latest political headache from the agency is a newly surfaced video from a 2010 conference starring Al Armendariz, whom Obama appointed in November 2009 as the regional director of the agency's Region Six, which covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

In the video, Armendariz outlines his philosophy about enforcing environmental regulations on oil and gas producers in the region, acknowledging that it was "probably a little crude."

"It was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean," 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 then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years."

Armendariz's suggestion was that the agency should "find people who are not complaint with the law, and you hit them as hard as you can and make examples out of them."

(One tip for government officials: If you feel prompted to preface remarks by saying an analogy is "probably a little crude" you probably should stop talking, especially if your analogy has you playing the role of a Roman centurion torturing and killing defenseless, innocent villagers.)

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the agency's leading critic in the Senate, got ahold of the video and on Wednesday launched a blistering speech on the Senate floor, quoting from it extensively. Media outlets quickly picked up on the video, which seemed to confirm conservative critics who claim that Obama's environmental enforcement has been capricious, heavy-handed and unfair.

Armendariz acknowledged in a statement having made the speech and apologized to those offended and said he regretted his "poor choice of words" but claimed he has always practiced "fair and vigorous enforcement." An agency spokeswoman also indicated that the EPA was standing behind Armendariz. But congressional hearings and greater press scrutiny on his record can't be far off. If Armendariz thinks he regrets the statement now, just wait a week.

Remember, all energy producers are in some ways out of compliance with EPA regulations. The regulatory process is just that - a process. The agency finds violations of phonebook-thick rules on drilling, mining, pumping, burning, storing and transporting of energy. The energy companies then offer remedies that the agency either accepts or rejects. Disputes often end up in federal administrative law courts.

Sometimes there's a cut and dried case of an energy producer knowingly violating the rules and trying to cover it up, but most of the environmental offenses fall under a back-and-forth between the regulators and the regulated.

Republicans say that the agency under Obama has gone from an agency that seeks to keep companies in compliance with environmental rules to one that is looking to bust companies and take scalps.

With gasoline prices sky high and the EPA already very much in the news because of Republican charges that agency is pushing energy prices up, the last thing the president needs is to have one of his appointees on camera seeming to conform the charges of his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

Environmental policy has been a constant source of aggravation throughout the Obama era.

The president made combating global warming a central tenet of his 2008 campaign and he sought to deliver on his promises after taking office by pushing new federal fees on carbon emissions. House Democrats took up the cause with gusto, passing what supporters call "cap and trade" legislation.

Senate Democrats demurred and left their House colleague dangling. While Obama's health law was the primary cause of the Democratic disaster in 2010, many losses, especially in the Rust Belt, can also be attributed to that global warming legislation.

When the bill was still pending in the Senate, Obama tried to use the EPA as a threat to force carbon-state Democrats to the negotiating table. The threat was that if moderate Democrats didn't deal, Obama would cripple fossil fuels by allowing the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, a common component of the atmosphere, as a toxic substance that endangers human health.

Democrats called Obama's bluff and the administration shelved the regulations, which would have been crippling to U.S. industry and might have resulted in regular brown outs during periods of peak energy consumption.

But since them, the EPA has been back on the march with a clutch of new rules that while less sweeping, add up to the same kind of global warming crackdown by other means.

The agency has also taken up the issue of natural gas exploration, adding new restrictions on drilling even as the president calls for increased natural gas use as part of his effort to combat Republican complaints that he is driving energy prices higher by limiting access to domestic oil reserves.

Obama knows that energy prices are one of his weakest weak spots against Romney. But he also knows that environmentalism is one of his best ways to keep liberals "fired up, ready to go."

That's why in his recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine Obama promised that he would be "clear in voicing [his] that we're going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way."

But when pressed on what he would do to deal with the issue, Obama cited retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient.

While believers in global warming are making dire projections that large-scale development of new North American petroleum reserves would be "game over" for climate, Obama is talking about energy-efficient windows.

Add in the political pain surrounding subsidies for Solyndra and other firms, and you see how the environment has become one of Obama's least favorite issues - and why Armendariz just joined that GSA guy in the hot tub as one of the president's least favorite bureaucrats.

And Now, A Word From Charles

"But I think after all the hard times I've given Newt, he has run an improbable campaign.  He did really well, resurrecting himself twice.  And I think he has a lot to contribute.  I don't think he was cut out to be president, and that's what the electorate decided.  I think he'd make great senator or ambassador.  I think there is a place for him if Romney wins, and I hope he gets a position of importance."

-- Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier."

Programming Note

"Power Play with Chris Stirewalt" will be a special one-hour edition today from Georgetown University in front of a student audience of GU students. Guests include the top talkers for the RNC and DNC, Bret Baier, Steve Hayes, Jill Lawrence, Rep. David Schweikert, Rep. Henry Cuellar and the leaders of the school's Young Republicans and Young Democrats. Join the fun starting at 11:30 am EDT at http://live.foxnews.com/


Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.