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
``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
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
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
Public comment will be accepted for an additional 30
days after that hearing before the federal report will
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or email@example.com