Canton Repository

2-16-01

Senator’s work could push landfill probes 

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and an ombudsman from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are turning up the heat on federal officials to permit an investigation of a hazardous waste site in Pennsylvania — a request that, if approved, could lead to a resumption of a probe at the Industrial Excess Landfill in Lake Township, Ohio.

The actions by Specter, a prominent GOP senator from Pennsylvania, and EPA Ombudsman Robert J. Martin mark the latest development in a feud between EPA officials and the ombudsman’s office.

In a letter sent to EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman on Wednesday, Specter said the EPA and the ombudsman should put aside differences and allow Martin to continue his review of a closed battery recycling center in Throop, Pa.

As ombudsman, Martin has the authority to review EPA decisions and conduct independent investigations at EPA-controlled toxic waste sites.

‘‘The residents of Throop ... do not deserve to be denied action on this site because of internal conflicts between EPA and the national ombudsman program,’’ said the letter, signed by Specter and two other Pennsylvania Republicans, Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Don Sherwood. ‘‘It is time to put aside differences and allow ombudsman Martin to complete his investigation so remediation efforts can begin.’’

The Pennsylvania site is among 20 across the nation where Martin suspended investigations on Jan. 5 when he cited a lack of manpower. The ombudsman also stopped his probe at the Industrial Excess Landfill, a 30-acre Superfund site that formerly served as a dump for Ohio-based tire manufacturers.

On Tuesday, the day before the senators’ letter was sent to Whitman, Martin sent a memo to Michael Shapiro, acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. In the memo, Martin declared his intention to resume an investigation of the Throop site with Hugh Kaufman as his chief investigator.

EPA officials ‘‘barred’’ Kaufman from assisting Martin late last year, according to Martin. In response, Martin suspended his investigations.

Martin has complained that EPA officials ‘‘barred’’ him from controlling the resources he needs to do his job. He also said work rules proposed for the ombudsman office by EPA officials ‘‘will ultimately result in obstructing the execution of an independent national ombudsman function if administered ... in their present form.’’ The EPA has made the proposed rules available for public comment until March 5.

Kaufman said the actions by Specter and Martin could bring the controversy to a head and clear the way for Martin to resume his investigations at other waste sites, including the Lake Township site.

‘‘Mr. Specter and Mr. Martin are breaking the logjam so we can go back to work doing our job and doing these investigations at the requests of members of Congress,’’ Kaufman said.

An EPA response could come as soon as today, the apparent deadline for Shapiro to act on a request from Kaufman and Martin to travel to Pennsylvania next Monday to resume the investigation.

If Shapiro denies the request, Kaufman said, he and Martin can file a grievance with Whitman, President Bush’s pick to head the EPA, alleging that Shapiro ‘‘has stopped us from carrying out our duties,’’ Kaufman said. ‘‘And then Whitman is between a rock and a hard place because Specter and Santorum already have asked her to stop the entrenched bureaucracy from stopping us.’’

EPA officials did not have a response to the senators’ letter to Whitman or Martin’s plan to resume his investigation as of Thursday, a spokeswoman said.