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September 5, 2001

E.P.A. Faults Ohio Agency Headed by a Bush Nominee


The Associated Press
Donald R. Schregardus has come under fire for his work in Ohio.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 ó The Environmental Protection Agency released a preliminary report today that found severe flaws in several Ohio environmental programs, some of which were supervised by a former official who has been nominated to become the agency's top enforcement officer.

President Bush's nominee, Donald R. Schregardus, the former administrator of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, was approved last month by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

But since then, several Democratic senators and environmental groups have protested the nomination, saying Mr. Schregardus was too lax in enforcing environmental laws in Ohio.

The release of the report was essentially forced by Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who opposes Mr. Schregardus's nomination, and its release strengthened her resolve to block a vote by the full Senate on the nomination, a spokesman said today.
The report stemmed from a petition filed in 1997 in Ohio by several environmental groups that complained about the state's implementation and enforcement of many environmental programs under Mr. Schregardus's control. In the preliminary review, the federal agency found severe failures in several areas.

For example, the review concluded that the Ohio agency was ill- equipped to enforce the federal Clean Air Act, saying it employed fewer people than it had indicated it needed to run its air programs and that there had been a decline in recent years in air inspections, investigations of complaints and amounts of penalties collected.

It also said that the state had no program to ensure minimal training for employees; it had not provided required information about strategy, tracking and enforcement, and it had "a very high level of vacancies with no system in place to expeditiously fill those vacancies."

The report also listed what it described as "more serious" shortcomings: Ohio has fallen behind the statutory and regulatory timetable for issuing certain permits; it has not implemented an acid rain program; it has not obtained "sanitized" versions of permit applications from applicants with confidential claims, and it might be modifying certain permits through an administrative process rather than a formal public comment-and-review process.

The review said that if these findings were subsequently verified, they "may provide a basis for the commencement of withdrawal or revocation proceedings" of one or more clean air programs overseen by Ohio unless the state made "definitive commitments to address U.S. E.P.A.'s concerns."

The language was unusually strong for a federal agency examining state implementation of its programs. Although the review was prepared by the agency's regional office in Chicago, it was still striking coming from the federal government in the midst of a political battle over a presidential nomination.

Tina Kreisher, a spokeswoman for Christie Whitman, the head of the federal environmental agency, said Mrs. Whitman stood by Mr. Schregardus. Ms. Kreisher cited a letter Mrs. Whitman wrote last month in which she said Mr. Schregardus had compiled "an impressive record" in Ohio.

Regarding the federal criticism of a nominee, Ms. Kreisher said: "This study didn't start under the Bush administration. This is not a study on Don Schregardus. That is apples and oranges."

Sandy Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Ohio Citizen Action, one of the groups that initiated the petition, said, "While they were trying to throw the nominee a life preserver, they've thrown him an anchor instead."

It was clearly an embarrassment to the federal agency, whose leader recently initiated an administration effort to rally support for Mr. Schregardus.

A press release from the federal agency sought to cast the review in a positive light. It quoted Mrs. Whitman as saying: "Overall, Ohio continues to make progress in protecting the environment. Nonetheless, there is work to be done, together. Concerning clean water programs, Ohio has committed to actions that will allow its continued administration of these programs."

The press release continued: "For the clean air programs, the report clearly identifies steps that must be taken by Ohio to prevent any future proceedings that could revoke the state's delegation of those programs. The E.P.A. will work closely with Ohio to implement these changes."

Mr. Schregardus was the administrator of the Ohio agency from 1991 through 1999, and the report covers 1995 until 2000.

Senator Boxer has placed a "hold" on Mr. Schregardus's nomination. A "hold" is a procedural move that can block a nomination from reaching a vote by the full Senate.

Ms. Boxer had said she wanted the review completed before she would consider releasing her hold. David Sandretti, her spokesman, said today that the report failed to reassure the senator and that she would keep the nomination on hold indefinitely.

"The information we have received thus far about the E.P.A. report on the Ohio investigation does not appear to resolve Senator Boxer's concerns about the Schregardus nomination," Mr. Sandretti said.

The Bush administration dispatched Ed Krenik, the agency's liaison to Congress, to Capitol Hill today to brief the staffs of senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee. And environmentalists took that as a sign that the administration was worried about Mr. Schregardus's fate.

"This is an indication they know this nomination is in trouble and they feel a need to explain it," said Laura Chapin of the Environmental Working Group.

Several senators, including James M. Jeffords, the Vermont independent who is the chairman of the environment committee, have taken the position that a president is entitled to have the team he wants. As a result, it is not clear if opponents of Mr. Schregardus could get the 51 votes needed to block his nomination.

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