EPA Ombudsman Resigns Accountability in Handling of Superfund Sites Threatened

by CounterPunch Wire

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Ombudsman Robert Martin resigned today, ending a long-running battle to preserve his office and its ability to independently investigate cases where the agency mishandled Superfund sites. His resignation came on the heels of actions taken by EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to disband his office, including sending agents to confiscate his files and his computers, and to change the locks on his office last Thursday and Friday.

"This is a tremendous loss for Superfund communities nationwide as well as advocates for good government," stated Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), one of many organizations supporting increased independence and authority for the EPA Ombudsman. Background on the EPA Ombudsman issue can be found at http://www.pogo.org/hazmats/hazindex.htm.

For years, the Ombudsman has been deeply critical of numerous EPA decisions regarding the clean-up of Superfund sites across the country. Efforts to limit his independence began under the Clinton Administration and dramatically escalated under Whitman’s authority. In recent months, Whitman prevented him from investigating sensitive cases and ordered that he be moved under the direct control of the Inspector General.

Actions by EPA Administrator Whitman have drawn widespread criticism. Supporters of Ombudsman independence include Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, the General Accounting Office, and community groups across the country who are affected by Superfund sites in their neighborhoods.

Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and eleven other Democrats have asked the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to accept Martin’s request for whistleblower protection. In May, Representative Michael Bilirakis (R-FL) plans hearings on the EPA’s efforts to interfere with the work of the Ombudsman. Last year, Representative Bilirakis and Senator Michael Crapo (R-ID) introduced the Ombudsman Reauthorization Act of 2001 (H.R. 1431, S.606) to improve the independence and authority of the Ombudsman to pursue Superfund investigations.

Attorney Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project is representing Mr. Martin in his filing before the Office of Special Counsel.

In 1998, POGO gave Mr. Martin its "Beyond the Headlines" award recognizing his ability to expose wrongdoing in the handling of Superfund sites and negotiate solutions between communities, polluters and the EPA.


 

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