EPA Enforcement Nominee Blocked in the Senate

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - Three Democratic senators are blocking Senate approval of the Bush administration's nominee for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's top enforcement post.

Schumer

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, became the latest Senator to block confirmation of a new EPA enforcement chief on Monday (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
Senate majority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Charles Schumer of New York and Barbara Boxer of California have put a hold on any Senate votes regarding nominee Donald Schregardus, citing the former Ohio environmental regulator's "lax" enforcement of Ohio's environmental laws.

President George W. Bush has nominated Schregardus as assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. As the EPA's chief enforcement officer, Schregardus would have the authority to determine how vigorously the environmental agency pursues individuals and companies that break the nation's environmental laws.

That worries Senators Boxer and Schumer. In announcing his opposition to Schregardus's nomination, Schumer said Monday he will block a full Senate confirmation vote until the Bush administration clarifies whether it will support the ongoing prosecution of utilities in the Midwest and South, whose aging power plants are blamed for much of the air pollution that blows into Schumer's home state of New York.

"This man is clearly totally unsympathetic to what is probably our greatest environmental crisis in the Northeast," Schumer said Monday. "I will fight his nomination tooth and nail until they put forward an adequate working plan on acid rain."

power plant

Pollution from aging coal burning power plants is blamed for much of the air pollution in northeastern states (Photo by Carole Swinehart, courtesy Michigan Sea Extension)
New York is one of seven Northeastern states that have filed suit against utilities located up to 400 miles away, charging that air pollutants emitted by power plants contribute to smog, acid rain and other environmental problems across the Eastern seaboard. In 1999, the U.S. EPA joined New York, the first state to file such lawsuits, in taking legal action against the utilities.

But under pressure from the White House, the EPA is now considering withdrawing its suits against dozens of utilities, and even reopening tentative settlements two utilities that have already been prosecuted. More than 50 aging, coal fired power plants have been cited by the agency for increasing their power output without installing emissions control equipment required under the new source review provisions of the Clean Air Act.

The Bush administration is also considering rolling back the new source review regulations altogether, although the EPA announced last week it would delay revealing its official position regarding the regulations until at least September.

Boxer

Senator Barbara Boxer decided to oppose Schregardus's confirmation after hearing environmental groups' concerns about the former Ohio EPA director (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
Environmental groups charge that Schregardus vehemently opposed enforcement of the new source review regulations during his tenure as director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Senator Boxer, who was the first Senator to put a hold on Schregardus's nomination, says she opposes the Bush administration's nominee because of the serious allegations raised by these groups, and by an ongoing federal investigation of the Ohio EPA.

The U.S. EPA is reviewing Schregardus's administration at Ohio EPA as part of an investigation of the state agency's alleged failure to enforce federal environmental laws. The federal agency could revoke Ohio's authority to implement federal environmental programs.

"The investigation into Ohio programs has been ongoing for years and no one has seen any draft findings or recommendations yet - not the public, not the Senate," said Joan Mulhern of the conservation group Earthjustice. "It only makes sense to get the verdict on EPA's assessment of Schregardus's enforcement history at Ohio EPA before giving him the keys to run the national enforcement program."

Yet on August 1, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to clear Schregardus's nomination and fast track the issue to the full Senate. The committee asked no questions about clean air issues during a hearing on the nomination, which was attended only by committee chair Jim Jeffords, a Vermont Independent, and Ohio Senator George Voinovich, a Republican.

Voinovich

Senator George Voinovich appointed Schregardus as Ohio EPA director during his tenure as Ohio's governor (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
Voinovich, a strong supporter of Schregardus's nomination, was governor of Ohio during Schregardus's tenure at Ohio EPA. At the hearing, Schregardus pledged to do "everything in my power" to enforce pollution laws, while Voinovich praised his former environmental enforcer.

Four Democratic senators on the committee opposed Schregardus's nomination. Senator Boxer was joined by New York's Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, and Ron Wyden of Oregon in voting against confirming the Bush nominee.

Both national and Ohio environmental organizations have raised numerous concerns over Schregardus's nomination and his track record as director of Ohio EPA. The groups cite Schregardus's role in the Ohio EPA's decision to disregard a federal mandate that called for the reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions from utilities.

During Schregardus's tenure at Ohio EPA, legal actions brought by the agency to force polluters to clean up contaminated sites fell by more than 50 percent. And a ruling by a U.S. administrative law judge found Schregardus and other Ohio EPA officials guilty of violating the whistleblower provision of seven federal environmental statutes and of misrepresenting possible threats to human health at a contaminated site in Marion, Ohio.

smoke

As the EPA's top enforcement officer, Schregardus would help control how aggressively the agency pursues polluters (Photo courtesy EPA)
If Schregardus is confirmed by the Senate, he will likely have far less to do than EPA enforcement officers under the last administration. In his first federal budget, President Bush proposed slashing the EPA's enforcement staff by eight percent, or 270 positions.

As part of his plan to shift many enforcement duties to the states, Bush's budget would provide $25 million in new state grants for enforcement actions.

But according to federal and private reviews of state enforcement efforts, Ohio is not the only state to have enforcement problems. A September 1998 audit by the EPA inspector general found that six states - Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Washington - failed to report hundreds of "serious violations" of the Clean Air Act - including some which fall under the new source review regulations.