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Policy Letter

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

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