Top EPA official resigns in frustration

A top US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official has resigned from the organisation, stating that he is frustrated with continual delays in reducing air emissions from nine power companies that produce a quarter of the country’s sulphur dioxide emissions.

According to Eric V Schaeffer, Director of the Office of Regulatory Enforcement at the EPA, the organisation filed law suits against the nine power companies for expanding plants without obtaining permits and up-to-date pollution controls required by law, between November 1999 and December 2000.

“Yet today, we seem about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” says Schaeffer in his resignation letter. “We are in the ninth month of a ‘90 day review’ to re-examine the law, and fighting a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce.” Possible new proposals from the Bush Administration would turn narrow exemptions into larger loopholes so that old ‘grandfathered’ plants would be continually rebuilt without modern pollution controls, he said.

Two power companies have refused to sign consent decrees that they agreed 15 months ago, hedging their bets whilst they wait for the Bush Administration’s official Clean Air Act reform proposals. “Other companies with whom we were close to settlement have walked away from the table,” said Schaeffer. “The momentum we obtained with agreements announced earlier has stopped, and we have filed no new lawsuits against utility companies since this administration took office.”

Schaeffer also fears that the EPA’s proposed budget cuts, that would reduce the enforcement programme by more than 200 staff below the 2001 level, would leave the organisation desperately short of the resources needed to deal with the large sophisticated corporate defendants that it faces.

“I … leave with a deep admiration for the men and women of EPA who dedicate their lives to protecting the environment and the public health,” said Schaeffer. “Their faith in the Agency’s mission is an inspiring example to those who still believe that government should stand for the public interest.”

However, Schaeffer has been criticised in the New York Times by Scott Segal, a partner at the Bracewell & Patterson law firm that lobbies on behalf of the utility industry, for being an entrenched bureaucrat, more interested in protecting his own turf than in thinking creatively about the Clean Air Act. “I don’t think he contributes one bit to the current debate,” said Segal.

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