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Published Wednesday, September 5, 2001, in the Akron Beacon Journal.

Ohio EPA survives scrutiny

Environmental groups pleased federal agency seeking changes in certain state programs after review

Beacon Journal staff writer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday gave its preliminary blessing to the Ohio EPA and its enforcement programs.

What the impact will be depends on which side is talking: the Ohio EPA or Ohio environmentalists. Both sides claimed at least partial victory, following a 20-month federal review of eight Ohio EPA programs.

The battle was triggered when four statewide eco-groups -- Ohio Citizen Action, the Sierra Club, Rivers Unlimited and the Ohio Public Interest Research Group -- asked the U.S. EPA to revoke Ohio's authority to manage three of the programs: those dealing with clean air, clean water and toxic waste laws.

``Because of this unprecedented review, Ohio EPA's programs have withstood more scrutiny than any other state environmental program,'' said Ohio EPA Director Christopher Jones.

``I am gratified that the report represents an endorsement of the hard work and dedication of the Ohio EPA staff,'' he said. ``In addition to many positive comments about our work, the U.S. EPA did not find a reason to begin a more intensive investigation as part of a formal process to withdraw programs.

``The report does contain suggestions for improvement, as would be expected in any review of this nature, and Ohio EPA looks forward to working with the U.S. EPA to clarify and address those issues,'' Jones said in a statement.

He said state officials were puzzled by some of the federal criticism, but they intend to work to resolve highly technical differences between the two agencies.

The federal report does ``not exonerate the Ohio EPA,'' the eco-groups said in a joint statement.

Instead, the federal agency is directing Ohio to fulfill commitments made in negotiations to upgrade clean water and toxic chemical rules and calls for more changes to improve the state's clean-air program.

``We are pleased to see the U.S. EPA . . . verify that all three major environmental programs could face the withdrawal process unless changes are made or continued,'' the four eco-groups said in a statement.

They charged that the federal EPA statement ``was couched'' to minimize damage to Donald Schregardus, the former head of the Ohio EPA who has been nominated to a top enforcement post with the U.S. EPA.

The nomination of Schregardus, who headed the Ohio EPA for 7 1/2 years until late 1998, is on hold because of opposition from at least two U.S. senators.

The Ohio EPA is claiming ``a grand slam home run, when all they really got was a base hit,'' said Bryan Clark, a spokesman for the Ohio Public Interest Research Group in Columbus.

The environmental groups remain especially troubled by flaws in Ohio's clean-air program.

In a letter released late Friday, the U.S. EPA said it had ``not found grounds'' for pulling Ohio's authority to manage toxic waste and clean water rules.

But Ohio must fulfill commitments it has made and the actions it has begun to improve management of those areas, the federal EPA said.

Ohio also needs to ``promptly initiate specific steps'' or the federal EPA might withdraw state control of clean-air issues, the federal agency said.

It praised Ohio's legal environmental enforcement offices and criminal enforcement programs, calling both acceptable.

In fact, Ohio's criminal enforcement efforts are among the best in the country, said the letter from Thomas Skinner, federal EPA regional administrator in Chicago.

The U.S. EPA asked the Ohio EPA to respond to the draft report within 30 days.

A public hearing will be held in October in Columbus on the federal EPA's preliminary findings. No date has been set.

Public comment will be accepted for an additional 30 days after that hearing before the federal report will be finalized.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or

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Updated 4:39 a.m., September 5, 2001

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