Ex-Ohio director saw waning support for federal post
President Bush’s choice for the nation’s top environmental enforcer withdrew his nomination yesterday, two weeks after key lawmakers vowed to take a closer look at his record as director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Congressional support for Donald R. Schregardus evaporated after the release of a federal report that sharply criticized the state agency he headed for most of the past decade.
Schregardus faced questions about his suspension of an Ohio EPA whistle-blower who criticized the agency’s investigation of leukemia cases among graduates of River Valley High School outside Marion.
“It is clear to me . . . that my nomination will not be considered by the U.S. Senate in a timely manner,” Schregardus wrote in a letter to the president.
Schregardus is the first Bush nominee for an environmental post forced to quit. Several others have faced opposition in the Senate because of their close ties to industries regulated by the federal government, but none has been rejected.
In his letter to Bush, Schregardus said he is proud of his record, which includes 17 years with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and eight years as director of the Ohio EPA under former Gov. George V. Voinovich.
The White House tried unsuccessfully to sway lawmakers with statistics showing that air and water in Ohio are cleaner.
Voinovich, now a U.S. senator and Schregardus’ chief sponsor, has accused the administration of failing to aggressively push for his former aide’s nomination to be assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance for the U.S. EPA.
“I’m disappointed Don has withdrawn,” Voinovich said in a statement. “The fact is, however, I do not believe he would have received a fair hearing.”
Environmentalists have contended that Voinovich and Schregardus were lax with polluters in Ohio.
“He has a long record of reversing the mission of environmental protection in Ohio,” Sandy Buchanan, executive director of Ohio Citizen Action, said of Schregardus.
Sen. James M. Jeffords, a Vermont independent who is chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, wanted to review a U.S. EPA report released Sept. 6 that supported some of the activists’ complaints about the Ohio EPA.
Some of the agency’s flaws are serious enough that officials are threatening to revoke Ohio’s authority to enforce federal environmental laws unless changes are made.
Among other things, the report noted a decline since 1995 in the number of inspections, investigations and penalties of air polluters. Federal officials also criticized the state for “unduly relying” on statements by industries it regulates and for failing to ensure its employees are adequately trained.
Senators also seized on a ruling last year that granted federal whistle-blower protection to Paul Jayko, coordinator of the Ohio EPA investigation into cancer cases among graduates of River Valley High School.
Schregardus removed Jayko from the case and disciplined him for drinking two beers before a public meeting. But a U.S. Labor Department administrative law judge ruled in October that the punishment amounted to retribution for Jayko’s aggressive efforts to kick-start the investigation. Jayko was reinstated to his old job.
One aide testified that Schregardus made it clear that he wanted subordinates “to be very aggressive in telling reporters there is no evidence linking the sites to leukemia” during the ongoing investigation.
In response to questions from senators, Schregardus recently said he had only “limited, indirect involvement” in the case. He also said he would make the same decisions today.