Canton Repository

April 6, 2002

EPA ombudsman fights transfer 

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK 
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — As national ombudsman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Robert J. Martin has played a critical role in stopping federal regulators from going ahead with ill-advised cleanup plans at hazardous waste sites, his supporters insist.

But if he is transferred within the EPA to Inspector General Nikki Tinsley’s office, as planned, he’ll languish in a job where he will be “staring at the hotline and waiting for it to ring,” his attorney Thomas Mack told a federal judge Friday.

That would be a far cry from his current job, where he enjoys “total” independence in reviewing public complaints, opening
investigations of EPA cleanup plans and making recommendations to the agency, Mack said.

Martin’s attorneys have asked U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Roberts to halt Martin’s transfer to the inspector general’s office, a move ordered by EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

Roberts said he will decide within a week whether to order a temporary bar on the transfer of Martin. If the judge blocks the move, Martin will go to trial seeking a permanent injunction against the transfer, he said.

Whitman ordered the transfer, she said, to give Martin more independence after complaints that he did not have enough while based within the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

But in a lawsuit filed in January, Martin claims the transfer was a retaliatory response to criticism he leveled at the EPA while doing his job. As such, it violates his free speech rights, he contends.

If the transfer goes through, Martin will end up manning a phone line set up to take calls alleging waste, fraud or abuse in the EPA, Mack said. The move would put Martin in the inspector general’s office of government and media affairs, where he would need clearance to make public statements, he added. “He will no longer investigate unless they tell him he can,” Mack said.

Since his appointment as ombudsman in 1992, Martin has opened 34 investigations across the country. These include his probe at the Industrial Excess Landfill near Canton, Ohio.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr., who represents the EPA, countered that Martin’s claim that he will lose the ability to do his job is “nothing more than speculation.”

“It cannot be retaliation when we put him in a position where he is more independent, because the inspector general is more
independent,” McCallum said.

Tinsley is a presidential appointee, as is Whitman. Tinsley is thus independent of Whitman. The inspector general investigates mismanagement and corruption at EPA, while the ombudsman reviews EPA cleanup plans.

Martin would keep his title, “the same general functions” and access to his files when moved, McCallum said. “It may result in a greater expansion of his activities rather than a restriction.”

Martin’s attorneys link the alleged retaliation by the EPA to the ombudsman’s review of EPA plans to clean up the Shattuck Chemical Superfund site in Denver. Martin and his chief investigator, Hugh Kaufman, have criticized a deal between the EPA and Citigroup, which owns and is responsible for cleaning up Shattuck.

According to Martin’s lawsuit, “the proposed consent decree (for the cleanup) requires Citigroup to pay only a small percentage of the real cost of the cleanup and does not guarantee all contamination will be taken off site to a licensed disposal facility.”

Kaufman has accused Whitman of having a conflict of interest in the case because she and her husband, John Whitman, own up to $250,000 in stock in Citigroup. John Whitman formerly worked for the company and currently manages a venture capital firm
financed largely by Citigroup, the lawsuit says.