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U.S. EPA releases positive report in wake of Schregardus nomination

By MALIA RULON
The Associated Press
9/4/01 7:41 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday said it would not strip its Ohio counterpart of enforcement authority for eight programs, including those dealing with air and water pollution.

However, the agency in its preliminary 224-page report gave the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency a stern warning that if its handling of federal programs does not improve, the EPA would move to take control of the agency's enforcement power.

"Overall, Ohio continues to make progress in protecting the environment. Nonetheless, there is work to be done," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said.

Specific recommendations include issuing permits on time, having trained staff to administer the programs, opening its regulatory practices to the public and improving its inspection strategy and enforcement procedures.

Four environmental groups -- Ohio Citizen Action, the Ohio Public Interest Research Group, Rivers Unlimited and the Sierra Club -- in 1997 had accused the agency and its former director, Donald Schregardus, of being lax with polluters. They asked the federal agency to take over enforcement of the programs.

The draft decision comes as the Bush administration is fighting to secure Senate confirmation of Schredgardus for a job as the federal EPA's top enforcer of rules.

Whitman said in a letter to senators last month that Schregardus has "compiled an impressive record in Ohio" and the report released Tuesday should prove that.

But environmentalists say the report proves that the Ohio EPA hasn't been doing things the way it should. They also say it adds to their case against Schregardus.

"All the us EPA is saying is if you fix this complete disaster, then you can continue to run the programs," said David Altman, an attorney for the Ohio Citizen Action.

Maria Weidner, a policy advocate for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, said the fact that the EPA couldn't "sugar coat" the state's enforcement record proves what her group has been saying about Schregardus.

"The EPA was under pressure to come up with something and this is what they came up with? This confirms all of our concerns," she said. "We think that it's a wake up call for Ohio EPA and it's bad news for Schregardus."

Ohio EPA Director Christopher Jones said he wasn't surprised by the report, which he said was proof the state agency has been doing its job.

"No state has seen this kind of scrutiny, so when you look at all these programs, you're going to find issues and we expected that," he said. "The bottom line is despite what the petitioners have said for four years now, there isn't a basis to withdraw our programs."

Schregardus' nomination was halted last month when two Democratic senators -- New York's Charles Schumer and California's Barbara Boxer -- placed a "hold" on the confirmation vote.

Boxer and Schumer's offices said the senators were reviewing the report but neither "hold" had been lifted.

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

New Jersey Sens. Jon S. Corzine and Robert Torricelli, both Democrats, said the report did little to ease their air quality concerns regarding Schregardus' nomination.

"You can add this report to growing list of reasons why Donald Schregardus is the wrong choice for this position," Toricelli said. "We need strong leadership in the EPA if we are to clean our environment and I am not convinced that Mr. Schregardus could provide it."

The state has 30 days to respond to the draft review before a final report is issued. The EPA also plans to hold a public hearing on the report in Columbus next month.

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On the Net:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/region5/ohioreview

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.state.oh.us

Ohio Citizen Action: http://www.ohiocitizen.org

Environmental Working Group: http://www.ewg.org

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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