August 20, 2013

Credit: Flickr

Lake Erie

A veteran Ohio environmental regulator says Republican Governor John Kasich is forcing him to resign after pressure from the coal industry.

In an email distributed widely to Ohio Environmental Protection Agency employees Monday, George Elmaraghy said the Division of Surface Water he's headed since June 2005 faced "considerable pressure" this year to accommodate industry demands.

Elmaraghy commended his staff for its work as coal companies sought permits he said would have violated state and federal laws and harmed Ohio's streams and wetlands.

Elmaraghy's email, first published by the Huffington Post follows below:

From: Elmaraghy, George

Sent: Monday, August 19, 2013 8:08 AM

To: EPA All

Subject: Thank you

As you know, there has been considerable pressure from the coal companies over the last year for the division staff to accommodate the industry’s needs by issuing permits that may have a negative impact on Ohio’s streams and wetlands and violate state and federal laws. The division staff acted appropriately in trying to implement the law and made every reasonable effort to accommodate the industry’s needs. In doing so, we always acted under the direction of the Governor’s Office, Ohio EPA Director and Chief Counsel.

Because of the industry’s interpretation of the federal Clean Water Act and state water pollution control laws, DSW staff worked under difficult conditions but you have done your jobs honorably. Now, due to this situation, the Governor’s Office and the Director have asked me to resign my position as Chief of the DSW at the Ohio EPA, effective September 13, 2013.

Our division went through similar situations in the past and the division staff was able to overcome these difficulties and accomplish our water quality goals in the end. For example, in the last several years, we have:

1. initiated new programs such as near shore monitoring for Lake Erie,

2. initiated the inland lakes monitoring program,

3. created the Surface Water Improvement Fund grant program,

4. instituted the eDMR (electronic discharge monitoring reports),

5. started dredging the Ashtabula River with the intent to delist it soon,

6. removed several dams and restored riverbanks along several major

7. reached agreement with the majority of communities with combined
sewer overflow to control the discharge of raw sewage into Ohio’s
lakes and rivers.

8. improved compliance rates and eliminated permit backlog.

As a result, we have been able to bring the majority of Ohio’s large rivers into attainment with water quality standards. You can take pride in knowing that Ohio’s Surface Water program is the envy of other states. I know you will continue our mission to provide clean water for Ohio’s communities and businesses and protect & improve the state’s greatest resource, our water.

I will always greatly appreciate your help and support while I was division chief, and I urge all of you to maintain the high standards of integrity that have always marked our Division.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has a history of disputes with the coal industry, reports The Columbus Dispatch:

"In 2008, state lawmakers advanced an industry-backed bill that would have transferred the Ohio EPA’s authority to oversee such permits for coal companies to mining regulators at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. It did not pass.

That same year, the EPA denied a permit request from Murray Energy to dam a small Belmont County stream, called Casey Run, and use it as a storage lagoon for coal slurry.

EPA officials said the lagoon was a pollution threat to nearby Captina Creek, home to the endangered eastern hellbender salamander.

In July 2012, federal officials said they were considering expanding the company’s current lagoon to create an additional 10 to 15 years of storage capacity. In an email yesterday, Murray Energy said that a permit to create the Casey Run lagoon was still pending.

As far as Elmaraghy’s resignation is concerned, the company said, “Murray Energy Corporation and its subsidiary companies were not involved in anything at the (Ohio) EPA.”'

Ohio coal interests have poured nearly $1 million into campaign coffers of statewide and legislative candidates, since Kasich began his gubernatorial campaign in 2009.

Kasich's campaign received about $130,000; House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, took in about $85,000.

Over $870,000 of the total amount comes from just two coal companies: the Boiches, who run the Boich companies, and Robert Murray, who runs Murray Energy.

You probably recall Robert Murray from the 2012 presidential election days as the Midwest industrialist that he prayed for divine intervention the day after and claimed it forced him to lay off 156 staff. Or maybe the time he forced coal miners to attend a Mitt Romney event and donate to his campaign -- then didn't pay them for the day's work they missed to do so!

Murray is still a piece of work: while attending a field hearing at Ohio University Eastern Campus last Monday to discuss the effects of the Environmental Protection Agency on Ohio's coal industry, Murray's opening remarks alone no doubt earned him a special place in the um, afterlife:

'"Frankly, the EPA's enacted, proposed, and yet-to-be proposed regulations regarding the permitting, mining, and utilization of coal have already caused, and will continue to cause, catastrophic economic consequences for our state and our nation," Murray said.

Not only will Ohioans, along with many others Americans, will lose their jobs and many others will not be able to pay their electric bills as electric will no longer be affordable, he added.

Murray, who has been in the coal industry for the last 56 years, reminded those in attendance about President Obama's "War on Coal."

"This represents a coordinated effort to accomplish the total destruction of the United States coal industry. President Barack Obama, his appointed cabinet cronies, and his supporters in the U. S. House and Senate, are rapidly accelerating their attacks on our jobs and nothing has been enacted to even slow them down, let alone stop them," Murray said. "Mr. Obama has totally usurped the legislation branch of our federal government in his radical agenda. This is why we must turn to our State Legislators for help."

"The proposals of Mr. Obama's USEPA, alone, were estimated to destroy 2.15 million American jobs and result in $200 billion in electricity rate increases, all by 2020, before his campaign to place so-called "climate change" controls on so-called "greenhouse gas" emissions from electric power plants, which he announced weeks. ago," Murray said. "This is notwithstanding that the Earth has cooled for the last sixteen (16) years and that there is no connection between human activity and any "global warming". His agenda, and that of his Democrat supporters, is to tax carbon to obtain additional revenue to operate the already bloated federal government. This is bad for Ohio, and bad for America."'

That's one steaming pile of...CO2, folks. One should be wary of Murray's opinions on energy policy, while he has been in the coal industry for decades,he has quite a history of safety violations. Indeed, the government issued the largest fine in history for coal mine safety violations stemming from an accident at Murray's Utah mine that killed 6 miners.

“George is a consummate professional, very committed to the mission of the agency,” Jed Thorp, manager of the Sierra Club’s Ohio chapter said of Elmaraghy. “He always made decisions that were in the best interest of the environment and the people of Ohio.”

Elmaraghy's resignation will be effective on September 13th. Elmaraghy had worked at the agency in various roles for 39 years.

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