President Obama has picked New Mexico’s former top environmental enforcement official to head up the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region Six, which includes much of the American south.
Ron Curry, a professor at the University of New Mexico and former secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, will succeed Al Armedariz, who stepped down as Region Six administrator after video surfaced of him comparing his enforcement philosophy against oil and gas companies to Roman crucifixions.
While Curry has not been as flamboyant in his distaste for coal, he has spearheaded a high profile effort to close a coal-fired power plant in New Mexico.
Only a few months into the Obama presidency, the EPA announced it would retroactively revoke a permit for the Desert Rock plant near Farmington, NM. Curry had led the charge against Desert Rock, boasting of his efforts in a 2009 interview with an environmental group in Texas.
Curry and other opponents of the project said “EPA had cut corners in issuing the permit,” but the those in favor of plant construction blasted the move as an unprecedented overreach by the new administration.
Hit hardest was the Navajo Nation, on whose land the plant was slated to be built, and who had banked on the additional revenue from power sales that the plant would have brought.
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley said in a statement the decision was further proof that the U.S. government isn’t “honest and truthful in its dealings with Native America.” Shirley said that the EPA withdrawal of the permit will harm the Navajo people.
“I have people dying every day because of poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, gangs, and the U.S. Government is not there to adequately fund the direct service programs that cater to these needs,” he said.
Shirley concluded by saying that the message from the EPA is that it will hold projects “on Navajo land to standards that may well be impossible to meet — and that wouldn’t be applicable elsewhere.”
Curry’s record on coal power caught the attention of Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who exposed the video that led to Armedariz’s resignation.
“While I look forward to learning more about Mr. Curry, various public comments attributed to him raise concerns,” Inhofe said in a news release. Specifically, he added, “Mr. Curry has in the past expressed pride over shutting down coal fired power plants in New Mexico.”
Inhofe recently introduced legislation to subject EPA regional administrators to the Senate’s advice and consent authority.