WASHINGTON — Flexing his new authority as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. James M. Jeffords said Wednesday he will take a second, harder look at President Bush's nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency's top enforcement job.
The committee approved the nomination of Donald Schregardus as an EPA assistant administrator last month but will now probe his background more thoroughly because of a new, dismal report on Ohio's EPA, which Schregardus headed for most of the last decade.
"I would expect that this will be a longer, more involved process and require extensive investigation by Environment Committee staff of Mr. Schregardus' record in Ohio before this committee can act on this nomination," Jeffords, the Vermont independent, said in a statement.
Among other shortcomings highlighted by the draft report, the Ohio agency failed to implement the second phase of the federal acid rain program, the prime architect of which was Jeffords. The 224-page report was the result of a federal EPA investigation started by the Clinton administration in response to petitions from environmental groups.
Normally, a Senate committee would not have a second chance to consider a presidential nominee, but a procedural squabble between Democratic and Republican leaders sent all pending nominees back to the White House during Congress' August recess.
In addition, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) put a hold on Schregardus' nomination, a procedural move that prevents a vote by the full Senate. Boxer said she first wanted to see the results of the EPA investigation. Asked whether the report imperils Schregardus' nomination, Boxer said, "Yes, it should be in jeopardy."
Jeffords--who won his chairmanship when he left the Republican party this spring, shifting control of the Senate to Democrats--would not assess Schregardus' chances. But his statement stood as a strong warning to the administration.
Several of the administration's nominees for environmental posts have faced some opposition in the Senate because of their strong ties to the industries regulated by federal agencies. But none has been rejected.
The White House has given no indication that it is rethinking its support for Schregardus. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman sent a letter to all 100 senators late last month seeking their support.
"It was definitely her effort to say that folks were beating up on a good candidate," said Tina Kreisher, an EPA spokeswoman.
Whitman asked senators to "consider the important question that I asked in selecting Don for the position: Did the quality of Ohio's water, air and land improve under Don's leadership?" She then listed several indicators that Ohio is less polluted.
But Boxer and three other members of the environment committee voted against Schregardus.
Several senators from the Northeast oppose Schregardus because their states are downwind from Ohio and struggle with air quality problems that are exacerbated by pollution from factories in the Midwest.
"Donald Schregardus has shown that he is unwilling to curb the polluters of Ohio, so I find it unacceptable that he would be charged with this duty for the entire United States," said Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.).
The draft report on Ohio's EPA, which was made public Tuesday, cited several serious failures by the state agency to implement federal air pollution control programs. The report warns that if the state does not address EPA's concerns, it could lose some of its authority.