Tuesday, August 21, 2001

EPA nominee runs into trouble in D.C.

Environmentalists cite record of former chief of Ohio agency

By John Machacek
Gannett News Service

        WASHINGTON — As the White House considers withdrawing from air pollution lawsuits against power plants in the Midwest and South, Senate opposition to President Bush's nominee to be the chief enforcement officer at the Environmental Protection Agency is growing.

        Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, announced Monday that he is putting a new hold on the nomination of Donald Schregardus, former director of the Ohio EPA, until the administration “sufficiently explains” its policies for improving air quality in the Northeast.

        The parliamentary procedure allows a senator to block or delay a floor vote on a nominee.

        “I will fight his nomination tooth and nail until they put forward an adequate working plan on acid rain,” Mr. Schumer said.

        Northeastern states blame emissions from coal-fired Midwest power plants, especially in Ohio, for acid rain that kills trees and pollutes lakes. Scientists also say air

        pollution affects public health, increasing the number of asthma attacks and shortening life spans.

        The Bush administration has embraced a bill for combating acid rain. But it also is considering withdrawing from air pollution lawsuits against power plants that don't comply with federal laws.

        Without federal involvement, New York and other states might not have the legal standing or the manpower to pursue the suits independently, Mr. Schumer said.

        Mr. Schregardus, Ohio EPA director from 1991 to 1998 under then-governor and current Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican, appeared headed for an easy confirmation until environmental groups charged that he failed to enforce federal environmental laws in Ohio. They cited a 4-year-old EPA investigation into their allegations as a red flag for the Senate in considering Mr. Schregardus.

        At his confirmation hearing, attended only by Mr. Voinovich and Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Mr. Schregardus promised he would do “everything in my power” to enforce anti-pollution laws. The committee approved his nomination.

        During the hearing, Mr. Voinovich told the committee that Mr. Schregardus took an agency which had been “poorly managed” and made it into an effective one.

        But Mr. Schregardus has critics.

        “He's a nice guy, but enforcement wasn't his thing,” said Bruce Cornett, director of the Green Environmental Coalition, one of several Ohio groups that have raised concerns about Mr. Schregardus.

        Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., placed holds on Mr. Schregardus after Ms. Boxer and three other committee Democrats — Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Jon Corzine of New Jersey, voted against the nomination.

        Mr. Schumer said he is troubled by Mr. Schregardus' role in Ohio's 1999 decision to skirt a federal mandate that called for reducing utilities' nitrogen oxide emissions.

        A spokesman for Mr. Voinovich defended Mr. Schregardus, saying fines from polluters tripled during his term in office.

        “This has nothing to do with his record,” said spokesman Scott Milburn. “It's just people holding him up to get leverage in the energy policy debate.”


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