A top EPA official has apologized for comparing his agency's enforcement strategy to Roman crucifixion -- as Republican Sen. James Inhofe launched an investigation and told Fox News the comments are part of a campaign of "threats" and "intimidation."
Al Armendariz, the EPA administrator in the Region 6 Dallas office, made the remarks at a local Texas government meeting in 2010. He relayed to the audience what he described as a "crude" analogy he once told his staff about his "philosophy of enforcement."
"It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean," he said. "They'd go in to 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," he said.
Armendariz went on to say that "you make examples out of people who are in this case not complying with the law ... and you hit them as hard as you can" -- to act as a "deterrent" to others.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that the remarks did not reflect President Obama's view.
"What he said is clearly not representative of either this president's belief in the way that we should approach these matters or in the way that he has approached these matters -- either from this office here in the White House or at the EPA," Carney said.
Armendariz also issued a statement apologizing after Inhofe slammed the comments on the Senate floor, and fired off a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson highlighting them.
"I apologize to those I have offended and regret my poor choice of words," Armendariz said. "It was an offensive and inaccurate way to portray our efforts to address potential violations of our nation's environmental laws. I am and have always been committed to fair and vigorous enforcement of those laws."
Inhofe, though, said he's launching an investigation. On Fox News on Thursday, the senator said the remarks are "all a part of Obama's war on domestic energy," particularly on a process known as hydraulic fracturing -- which is used to extract oil and natural gas from rock.
Inhofe noted that the EPA, following Armendariz' comments, went after natural gas firms in three states and tried to link hydraulic fracturing to water contamination.
"You read his whole statement, and it's pretty revealing," Inhofe said. "And I think when he comes out and apologizes for using the word crucify he's still getting his message across there -- intimidation, threats."
The EPA is defending its enforcement strategy.
Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, said in a statement that "strong, fair and effective enforcement" is "critical to protecting public health" and making sure everyone is playing by the same rules.