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Sign on letter from over 70 organizations supporting H.R. 1431 in the House and S. 606 in the Senate to ensure the independence of the EPA National Ombudsman

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December 18, 2001

Chairman James Jeffords
Environment and Public Works Committee
410 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Jeffords,

Our organizations are writing in support of S. 606, the Ombudsman Reauthorization Act of 2001. As you know, the very essence of an ombudsman is to stand apart from the agency and to perform independent investigations. Discretion over which cases an ombudsman looks into, without having to ask permission from anyone within the organization, is essential for the effectiveness of that position. Should the ombudsman be, or appear to be, controlled by the agency whose work he is meant to investigate, his recommendations and findings of fact would be suspect, compromising the integrity and legitimacy of the position.

Unfortunately, under the current structure, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) national hazardous waste ombudsman is located within the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER), the department whose decisions he is responsible for investigating. Furthermore, his budget and staffing resources are controlled by OSWER management. The regional ombudsmen's independence is also severely limited or non-existent.

The recent move by Administrator Whitman to place the function in the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in January, 2002, is not an adequate solution. It would, in fact, further bury the ombudsman function. It appears the IG will determine which cases get investigated or not, and the ombudsman still will not have any staff, will not have supervisory authority over the regional ombudsmen, and will have no budget.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) has come to the same conclusions that we have. In their recently released report, "EPA's National and Regional Ombudsmen Do Not Have Sufficient Independence," the GAO concluded that, in relation to the ombudsmen's independence:

  • The ombudsmen are not independent of the organizational units they are responsible for investigating;
  • The national ombudsman should be located outside OSWER, the unit he is responsible for investigating;
  • The regional ombudsman program should be reexamined and, if that program is necessary, should be consistent with relevant professional standards;
  • The national ombudsman should be provided with his own budget and should have direct control over his staff; and
  • The national ombudsman should be accountable for his activities through a publicly available annual report.

The national ombudsman serves the invaluable function of being the last recourse available to communities affected by Superfund and other hazardous waste sites. The ombudsman is also, in some cases, the first official to adequately investigate and resolve the problems faced by these communities. Ensuring an independent ombudsman function also ensures citizens with protection too frequently denied them by the EPA.

S. 606 is vital to establish a truly independent ombudsman function. It establishes and ensures independence for the national ombudsman by creating an Office of Ombudsman within the EPA and making the ombudsman report directly to the Administrator; ensures independence for the regional ombudsmen by placing the positions under the supervision of the national ombudsman; provides the ombudsman with budget and staffing resources and control over those resources; and makes the ombudsman accountable by requiring him to publish an annual report on his activities.

We urge you and your colleagues on the Environment and Public Works Committee to cosponsor and quickly pass this legislation.

Sincerely,

20/20 Vision
James Wyerman, Executive Director  

Aberdeen Proving Ground Restoration Advisory Board
Theodore. J. Henry, MS
Toxicologist and Community Involvement Specialist Community Member  

Alaska Community Action on Toxics
Pamela K. Miller, Program Director  

Alaska Waveriders
Mike Macy, Director of Public Policy  

Alberton Community Coalition for Environmental Health
Lucinda Hodges, Director  

American Friends Service Committee
Northeast Ohio Office
Greg Coleridge, Director, Economic Justice & Empowerment Program  

Arrest the Incinerator Remediation (AIR)
Vicki Smedley, Chair  

Berks Coalition Against Toxic Sludge (BCATS)
Judith A. Fasching, President  

Biosolids Information Group
C. W. Williams, Chairman  

Cetacean Society International
William W. Rossiter, President  

Chemical Weapons Working Group
Craig Williams, Director  

Citizens Concerned about Nuclear Waste Impacts
Sonja Geoghegan, Co-Founder  

Citizens for Environmental Justice (CFEJ)
Suzie Canales, Chair  

Citizens for a Future New Hampshire
Caroline Snyder, Ph.D., President  

Citizens United for Responsible Environmentalism (CURE)
Jacqueline Cooperman, Director, South Bronx CURE  

Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers
Darrell Geist, Executive Director  

Common Ground
Dr. Richard Futrell, Steering Committee  

Concerned Citizens of Lake Township
Christine Borello, President  

Don't Waste Arizona, Inc.
Stephen M. Brittle, President  

Environmental Association for Great Lakes Education (EAGLE)
Craig Minowa, Projects Coordinator  

Environmental Health Watch
Stuart Greenberg, Director  

Environmental Science Research Associates
Ben Oostdam, Ph.D., Managing Director  

Faith & Life Resources Builder Magazine
David Hiebert, Editor  

Friends of the Earth
Gawain Kripke, Director, Economic Campaigns  

Friends of Miller Peninsula State Park
Darlene Schanfald, President  

Garden Club of Tarpon Springs
Mary Mosley, Conservation Chairman  

Glynn Environmental Coalition
Daniel Parshley, Project Manager  

Government Accountability Project
Tom Devine, Legal Director  

Grand Canyon Trust
Bill Hedden, Utah Conservation Director  

Greenpeace
Rick Hind, Legislative Director, Toxics Campaign  

GreenWatch, Inc.
Bill Smedley, Executive Director  

Halt Environmental Lead Pollution (HELP)
Susan Shortz, President  

Jim Morris Environmental T-Shirt Co.
Jim Morris  

Kentucky Environmental Foundation
Peter Hille, Chair  

Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation, Inc.
Cynthia Valencic, Vice President for Programs  

Patricia Anne Martin
Former Mayor, City of Quincy, WA  

Montana-Coalition for Health, Environmental & Economic Rights (CHEER)
Tony Tweedale, Board Member  

Montana Environmental Information Center
Anne Hedges, Program Director  

Mothers Organized to Stop Environmental Sins (M.O.S.E.S.)
Phyllis Glazer, President and Founder  

NYS Citizens Environmental Coalition
Jack D. Ossont, Board Member
Valerie Gardner, Co-Chair  

National Center for Environmental Health Strategies, Inc.
Mary Lamielle, Executive Director  

National Sludge Alliance
Charlotte Hartman, Coordinator  

National Whistleblower Center
William Sanjour, Senior Advisor  

Non-Stockpile Chemical Weapons Citizen Coalition
Elizabeth Crowe, Director  

Olympic Environmental Council
Steve Koehler, President  

Pennsylvania Environmental Network (PEN)
Vicki Smedley, President  

Pennsylvania Environmental Network (PEN)
Dioxin Team
Vicki Smedley, Team Leader  

Pennsylvania Environmental Network (PEN)
Military Toxics Team
Tina Daly, Chair  

Pennsylvania Environmental Network (PEN)
Sludge Team
Tina Daly, Chair  

Physicians for Social Responsibility
SF-Bay Area Chapter
Robert M. Gould, MD, President  

Pi-Pa-TAG (Pinellas-Pasco Counties Technical Assistance Grant)
Heather Malinowski, Secretary  

Protect All Children's Environment
E.M.T. O'Nan, Director  

Protect the Peninsula's Future
Eloise Kailin, President  

Public Citizen
Joan Claybrook, President  

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Jeff Ruch, Executive Director  

Rocky Mountain Arsenal Site Specific Advisory Board
John Yelenick, Co-Chairperson  

Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center
Tom Marshall  

Shenandoah County Alliance Against Toxic Sludge (SCAATS)
Charlotte H. Hughes, Secretary  

Silver Valley People's Action Coalition
Barbara Miller, Director  

Snake River Alliance
Gary E. Richardson, Executive Director  

Take Off Unknowns in Communities (TOXIC)
Inese Holte, Director of Communications  

Trans Alaska Gas System Environmental Review Committee
Mike Macy, Coordinator  

Tri-State Environmental Council
Terri Swearingen, Executive Director  

U.S. PIRG
Grant Cope, Staff Attorney  

United Parents Against Lead of North Carolina, Inc
Kristin Joyner, Director  

Valley Watch, Inc.
John Blair, President  

Washington Toxics Coalition
Laurie Valeriano, Policy Director  

Waste Not
Ellen & Paul Connett, Editors  

Wayne/Susquehanna RESCUE
Joann Morsch, President  

Women's voices for the Earth (WVE)
Bryony Schwan, Executive Director  

Yggdrasil Institute
Mary Byrd Davis, Director 

 

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