Press Release

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OEC Asks U.S. EPA to Investigate Ohio EPA’s Coal Permits

Ohio Environmental Council, September 11, 2013

The OEC and Ohio Sierra Club sent the following letter to the U.S. EPA regarding the recent resignation of the Chief of Ohio EPA’s Division of Surface Water.


September 10, 2013

Susan Hedman Regional Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region V
77 W. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, Illinois 60604-3590

Dear Ms. Hedman,

Last month (Aug. 19, 2013), the Columbus Dispatch reported that the Chief of Ohio EPA’s Division of Surface Water, George Elmaraghy, was forced to resign by Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

While no reason has yet been given by Ohio EPA or the Governor’s office as to the reason for their request for Mr. Elmaraghy’s resignation, in an Aug. 18, 2013, e-mail to staff, Mr. Elmaraghy stated:

“…there has been considerable pressure from the coal companies over the last year for the division staff to accomodate the industry’s needs by issuing permits that may have a negative impact on Ohio’s streams and wetlands and violates state and federal laws.”

Mr. Elmaraghy, a 39-year agency employee and division chief with service under both Republican and Democrat administrations, went on in his email to state that he was forced to resign as a result of his division’s strict adherence to state and federal water pollution control laws. Subsequently, on Aug. 23, 2013, Mr. Elmaraghy attempted to rescind his resignation, stating in an e­‐mail to Director Nally, “I do not want to retire. I want to stay and do my job for the citizens and the environment of Ohio.”

It now has come to our attention that Bruce Goff, a Division of Surface Water supervisor and 30-year agency employee in Ohio EPA’s Southeast District Office, recently was “reassigned” from writing permits to coal companies, reportedly due to disputes Mr. Goff had with the industry over NPDES permit limits.

The abrupt, forced resignation of the top surface water division administrator followed by the abrupt reassignment of a district office supervisor-­both because of alleged disputes with the coal industry over permit conditions in water quality permits-suggests a continuing and disturbing pattern. 

Finally, on Aug. 30, 2013, the Kasich administration heightened public concern even more when a member of the Ohio General Assembly asked the administration to explain Mr. Elmaraghy’s forced resignation. Rather than put the issue to rest with a clear and compelling explanation, a spokesman for the Governor dodged this lawmaker’s questions.

To date, our state’s administration has offered no explanation for these sudden and abrupt changes in top agency officials and alleged disputes over coal mining permits.

Nor has the administration provided any information regarding the adequacy of the water pollution permits issued to the coal industry. In the absence of a clear and compelling explanation and accounting for this troubling situation, we ask for an independent review.

We request that U.S. EPA conduct a full audit and investigation of Ohio EPA’s NPDES permitting program to ensure that permits are – in fact – being issued properly and in full compliance with state and federal environmental laws and rules.

Specifically, we ask that you take a close look at limits for total dissolved solids (TDS) and sulfates in permits issued in the past six months as well as any draft permits currently under review.  

Given the accusations from Mr. Elmaraghy, we feel that such an investigation is appropriate as well as necessary to provide the people of Ohio with confidence in those charged with protecting our streams, wetlands and lakes.

Sincerely,

Jed Thorp                Keith Dimoff
Ohio Sierra Club        Ohio Environmental Council