A veteran Ohio environmental regulator says Republican Governor John Kasich is forcing him to resign after pressure from the coal industry.
In an email distributed widely to Ohio Environmental Protection Agency employees Monday, George Elmaraghy said the Division of Surface Water he's headed since June 2005 faced "considerable pressure" this year to accommodate industry demands.
Elmaraghy commended his staff for its work as coal companies sought permits he said would have violated state and federal laws and harmed Ohio's streams and wetlands.
Elmaraghy's email, first published by the Huffington Post follows below:
From: Elmaraghy, George
Sent: Monday, August 19, 2013 8:08 AM
To: EPA All
Subject: Thank you
As you know, there has been considerable pressure from the coal companies over the last year for the division staff to accommodate the industry’s needs by issuing permits that may have a negative impact on Ohio’s streams and wetlands and violate state and federal laws. The division staff acted appropriately in trying to implement the law and made every reasonable effort to accommodate the industry’s needs. In doing so, we always acted under the direction of the Governor’s Office, Ohio EPA Director and Chief Counsel.
Because of the industry’s interpretation of the federal Clean Water Act and state water pollution control laws, DSW staff worked under difficult conditions but you have done your jobs honorably. Now, due to this situation, the Governor’s Office and the Director have asked me to resign my position as Chief of the DSW at the Ohio EPA, effective September 13, 2013.
Our division went through similar situations in the past and the division staff was able to overcome these difficulties and accomplish our water quality goals in the end. For example, in the last several years, we have:
1. initiated new programs such as near shore monitoring for Lake Erie,
2. initiated the inland lakes monitoring program,
3. created the Surface Water Improvement Fund grant program,
4. instituted the eDMR (electronic discharge monitoring reports),
5. started dredging the Ashtabula River with the intent to delist it soon,
6. removed several dams and restored riverbanks along several major
7. reached agreement with the majority of communities with combined
sewer overflow to control the discharge of raw sewage into Ohio’s
lakes and rivers.
8. improved compliance rates and eliminated permit backlog.
As a result, we have been able to bring the majority of Ohio’s large rivers into attainment with water quality standards. You can take pride in knowing that Ohio’s Surface Water program is the envy of other states. I know you will continue our mission to provide clean water for Ohio’s communities and businesses and protect & improve the state’s greatest resource, our water.
I will always greatly appreciate your help and support while I was division chief, and I urge all of you to maintain the high standards of integrity that have always marked our Division.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has a history of disputes with the coal industry, reports The Columbus Dispatch:
"In 2008, state lawmakers advanced an industry-backed bill that would have transferred the Ohio EPA’s authority to oversee such permits for coal companies to mining regulators at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. It did not pass.
That same year, the EPA denied a permit request from Murray Energy to dam a small Belmont County stream, called Casey Run, and use it as a storage lagoon for coal slurry.
EPA officials said the lagoon was a pollution threat to nearby Captina Creek, home to the endangered eastern hellbender salamander.
In July 2012, federal officials said they were considering expanding the company’s current lagoon to create an additional 10 to 15 years of storage capacity. In an email yesterday, Murray Energy said that a permit to create the Casey Run lagoon was still pending.
As far as Elmaraghy’s resignation is concerned, the company said, “Murray Energy Corporation and its subsidiary companies were not involved in anything at the (Ohio) EPA.”'
Ohio coal interests have poured nearly $1 million into campaign coffers of statewide and legislative candidates, since Kasich began his gubernatorial campaign in 2009.