Environmental Protection Agency Adminstrator Lisa Jackson
Environmental Protection Agency Adminstrator Lisa Jackson. REUTERS

Sen. James Inhofe is launching an investigation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over comments a top EPA administrator made about enforcement of environmental laws.

Inhofe, R-Okla., lambasted the EPA regarding comments Administrator Al Armendariz, who oversees oil- and natural gas-producing regions of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, made in 2010 about crucifying and making an example of energy companies that violate federal regulations.

Inhofe, a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works -- and one of the top 10 recipients in the Senate of campaign funds from the oil and gas industry in the 2011-2012 election cycle -- said Wednesday he is launching an investigation into Armendariz's comments.

Find people who are not compliant with the law, and you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them, and there is a deterrent effect there, said Armendariz in a video filmed during a city council meeting in a small Texas town. And, companies that are smart see that, they don't want to play that game, and they decide at that point that it's time to clean up. And, that won't happen unless you have somebody out there making examples of people.

The comments stem from a comparison Armendariz made between the EPA's enforcement of environmental laws and how, in his opinion, ancient Romans conquered other people.

I was in a meeting once and I gave an analogy to my staff about my philosophy of enforcement, and I think it was probably a little crude and maybe not appropriate for the meeting, but I'll go ahead and tell you what I said, Armendariz said. It was kind of 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.

Since Inhofe's declaration, Armendariz has apologized, saying his comments were inaccurate and offensive.

I am and have always been committed to fair and vigorous enforcement of those laws, said Armendariz.

But the senator says Armendariz's comments and the recent regulatory actions by the EPA in Dimock, Pa.; Pavillion, Wyo.; and Carter County, Texas, are linked.

Not long after Armendariz made these comments in 2010, the EPA targeted U.S. natural gas producers in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming, Inhofe said, but failed to definitively prove that natural gas drilling polluted local communities.

On Wednesday, Inhofe sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson asking that she explain the EPA's rationale when investigating hydraulic fracturing and natural gas drilling.

I am concerned that the EPA's proactive interest in the federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing contributed to the agency's pre-emptive actions, Inhofe said in his letter.

Calls to the senator's office were not returned.