Created on Tuesday, 18 March 2014 Written by JULIE CARR SMYTH, AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Four Democratic lawmakers asked the state watchdog Tuesday to investigate allegations of political pressure at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Their letter to Inspector General Randall Meyer seeks review of pollution-discharge permits for 13 coal facilities that have expired since Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011. The Associated Press reported the expirations last week.
State Reps. Debbie Phillips, John Carney, Nickie Antonio and Robert Hagan also asked Meyer to look into a pro-drilling communications plan developed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
"Such an overtly political effort conducted at taxpayer expense is surely not why Ohioans elect constitutional officers," the lawmakers wrote. "The fact that the Ohio EPA is listed as a partner is disturbing, and could be indicative of deeper political motivations at the state agency."
The four asked Meyer to determine if the administration and regulators are exerting inappropriate political pressure.
"Instead of enforcing laws that balance the public's interest in health, safety and economic growth with industry profits, news reports have indicated that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may selectively act on regulations and personnel matters that prove critical to upholding state and federal laws," they wrote.
A veteran Ohio EPA official alleged last year that his retirement was forced under pressure from coal industry interests. The official, George Elmaraghy, said in an email to his staff that companies sought illegally weak permits.
The companies and the agency have denied his claims. Emails were sent Tuesday seeking comment from the agencies mentioned in the letter.
ODNR has previously said the communications plan — which was intended to promote drilling under state lands — was never implemented. EPA has said the expired permits are still legal, protective and enforceable.
The Sierra Club and Ohio Environmental Council asked for a federal review of the expired permits Monday.