September 1, 2001
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U.S. rejects bid to whack Ohio EPA's authority
Saturday, September 1, 2001
Dispatch Environment Reporter

Faced with growing opposition to the appointment of Ohio's former EPA director to a key federal post, the Bush administration yesterday rejected a petition to strip the state of its authority to enforce major federal environmental laws.

The decision, announced in a letter sent by U.S. EPA Regional Director Thomas V. Skinner, comes as the administration is fighting to secure Senate confirmation of former Ohio EPA Director Donald R. Schregardus for a job as the federal agency's top enforcer.

Environmental groups have accused Schregardus of being too lax with polluters while in Ohio. They formalized their complaints last year with a petition that led to an unprecedented review by the U.S. EPA of Ohio's programs for air, water and hazardous waste.

Although the complaints predate Schregardus' nomination for the federal post, some Democratic senators have said they would not agree to a floor vote on his new job until after the federal agency issued the results of its review.

It's unclear whether the decision will give Schregardus the boost he needs. The federal agency is not going to take over the state's programs, but the letter from Skinner said it wants a few unspecified changes in three programs delegated to the state. Still, state enforcement of "the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery rank among the top in the nation,'' wrote Skinner.

U.S. EPA officials posted the letter on the agency's Web site late yesterday but did not inform reporters about it. Skinner's letter said a draft of the decision will be issued Tuesday and a public hearing will be held in Columbus in October.

Four environmental groups -- Ohio Citizen Action, the Ohio Public Interest Research Group, Rivers Unlimited and the Sierra Club -- had urged the federal agency to enforce major environmental laws in Ohio.

Marilyn Wall, conservation chairwoman for the Sierra Club, said, "I find the timing of their decision very interesting. I guess they felt they had to pat Don Schregardus on the back somehow.''

The Ohio EPA's current director, Christopher Jones, said agency officials are still reviewing the 200-page draft decision sent to them yesterday.

Jones tried to downplay any political motives behind yesterday's release, noting that most of the review took place during the Clinton administration.

"If you look at any state's programs, you are going to find issues,'' Jones said. "We can do better, but the bottom line is USEPA says our programs are good.''

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