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Ohio coal denies it engineered the ouster of state EPA official
But environmentalists says his departure makes no sense otherwise

Andy Chow
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In The Region:

A top environmental watchdog for the state says pressure from the coal industry played a role in his resignation. Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow looks into how much influence coal companies might have on the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

LISTEN: Coal and the Ohio EPA

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When George Elmaraghy, chief of the EPA’s Division of Surface Water, sent a mass email to his staff Monday morning, he said he was asked to resign by the governor’s office and the director of the agency. He says the move was made after considerable pressure from the coal industry.

The Division of Surface Water executes permits ensuring that the state is following the federal Clean Water Act.

While the agency will not talk about Elmaraghy’s resignation, which takes effect next month, it does stand by its permitting process,  saying its permits are evaluated by several third-parties including the federal EPA. The agency says the permits are submitted based on the law no matter who’s making the decision.

Zane Daniels is the president of the Ohio Coal Association. He insists his association does not impact or play any role in personnel decisions at the EPA.

Upholding the law
But some environmental advocates believe the coal industry has a strong influence on the agency. Trent Dougherty, staff attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, dealt with Elmaraghy on different issues. He says he always thought the chief was fair..

“I’ve only known the chief to follow the law. And if the EPA is saying that everyone in that position has to follow the law, then why is he being forced to leave? I think that’s a question that can only be answered by the governor’s office and the director of EPA.”

Last week, an Ohio House panel held a hearing in Belmont County to talk about energy. There to deliver testimony was Bob Murray, president of Murray Energy Corp., which touts itself as the largest privately-owned coal company in America.

Murray told the committee that President Barack Obama and policies of the U.S. EPA were causing “catastrophic economic destruction.”

Murray never addressed state EPA policies in his written testimony but Jed Thorp, manager of the Sierra Club’s Ohio Chapter, says the timing of Murray’s testimony and Elmaraghy’s resignation might not be a coincidence.

“To me, it’s not real surprising that not even a week after that that, you’re seeing heads roll at the agency.”

Murray Corp. spokesman Gary Broadbent says the company had nothing to do with the Elmaraghy’s resignation.

Both the Ohio Environmental Council and the Sierra Club say Elmaraghy’s departure is a step in the wrong direction as far as protecting Ohio’s streams and wetlands.

Related WKSU Stories

Environmental official asked to resign
Monday, August 19, 2013

Listener Comments:

To me, anytime someone is willing to forgo dignity and try to cause a ruckus when they are asked to leave it raises a red flag. I firmly believe that if he was pressured to leave it was for good reason. Considering how much that agency has to follow regulations set at a federal level it sounds like the dismissal was in no way personal. Some people just like to leave a nice trail of trash on their way out I guess.

Posted by: lacrossemom14 (Kettering) on August 22, 2013 7:08AM
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