Canton Repository

April 5, 2001

Industrial Excess Landfill: Bill would give ombudsman more power 

Copley Washington correspondent 

WASHINGTON — A second bill has been introduced giving more authority and independence to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ombudsman.

Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla., introduced the bill Wednesday to strengthen the ombudsman’s ability to respond to citizen complaints and investigate EPA plans and actions at hazardous waste sites.

Similar to legislation introduced late last month by several senators, including Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Wayne Allard, R-Colo., the bill increases the pressure on EPA officials to deal with complaints that they have thwarted the ombudsman’s investigations of the agency.

Initial co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, who several years ago won EPA permission for Ombudsman Robert Martin to review the agency’s plans at the Industrial Excess Landfill in
Lake Township. Reps. James Traficant, D-Poland, and John Shimkus, R-Ill., are other co-sponsors.

Bilirakis said the bill would “enable the ombudsman to continue to play an effective role in ensuring that cleanup plans reflect the concerns of the local residents living in communities burdened with Superfund sites.”

The Ombudsman Reauthorization Act would give congressional authorization to the office operated at the pleasure of the EPA. Under the bill, the ombudsman would report directly to the EPA administrator rather than to an assistant administrator, the current practice.

Also under the proposal, the ombudsman would have the authority to investigate actions of EPA assistant administrators, ask federal attorneys to issue subpoenas to compel testimony during investigations and appoint “associate ombudsmen” in the EPA’s 10 regions. Those regions currently are served by regional ombudsmen, who report to regional EPA officials rather than the national ombudsman.

The bill also would require the ombudsman to report to Congress and would provide the office with at least $2 million in funding per year.

Shimkus said the bill is needed to strengthen the ombudsman office after it was “kind of left dangling” during the Clinton administration. 

“I fully appreciate the role of the ombudsman, someone who has a little bit of autonomy and who can fight for our citizens against an entrenched bureaucracy,” he said.

Traficant is backing the legislation because he “sees these types of offices as a way to rein in” government bureaucrats, his spokesman Charles Straub said.

Sawyer and his staff were unavailable to discuss the bill.