March 07, 2005

EPA Ombudsman Bill Passes Senate

Sets up an independent office for oversight

Washington, DC â?? Legislation proposed by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo to reinstate the Office of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Ombudsman as an independent entity cleared the Senate floor today by unanimous consent. Crapoâ??s bill, S. 515, strengthens the Office of the Ombudsman by establishing an independent office within the EPA whose head would be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The Ombudsman would report directly to the EPA Administrator and would have the capacity to investigate and review allegations brought by the public. Similar legislation is pending in the House. â??This is tremendous news,â?? said Idaho Senator Mike Crapo. â??I introduced this legislation in order to bring a more equitable appeals process to Superfund disputes, and it is heartening that it has been endorsed by the Senate. Due to the obvious statutory and community access problems, the Ombudsman cannot function properly as part of the EPA Inspector Generalâ??s office. With passage of this legislation, the concerns of local stakeholders in environmental management and clean-up issues will again be given fair consideration in regulatory disputes that affect those communities and individuals. Crapo continued, â??Furthermore, the original reason the EPA gave for eliminating the independent Ombudsman was to expedite investigations that it felt had been delayed. Unfortunately, many of those investigations, including the Coeur dâ??Alene Basin Superfund issue, have yet to be resolved. This independent office will eliminate those administrative delays and management changes which prevent real work from being accomplished. The ability to work with an effective Ombudsman's office and those on the ground around the Triumph Mine site in central Idaho eventually led to that site being cleaned up and removed from the Superfund cleanup list.  There can be similar results for parts of the Coeur d'Alene Basin if we are vigilant in making sure citizens have an active voice in EPA operations though an independent Ombudsman's office."The existing independent Ombudsmanâ??s Office was transferred by the EPA Administrator in April 2002, placing it under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Inspector General. Several congressional hearings and General Accounting Office reports have criticized the EPAâ??s handling of the Ombudsmanâ??s Office.# # #