Removal of EPA Investigator Called Political Revenge: Why Gore really lost Ohio
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Removal of EPA Investigator Called Political Revenge
By Brian Hansen
WASHINGTON, DC, December 18, 2000 (ENS) - A federal
investigator whose revelations about the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency were damaging to Al Gore's unsuccessful bid
for the White House was relieved of his duties last week by a
political appointee of the outgoing Clinton administration.
Hugh Kaufman, a key player in the EPA's national hazardous
waste ombudsman's office, was relieved of his investigatory duties
last Thursday by Tim Fields, an assistant EPA administrator and
Clinton administration appointee.
Fields' move to oust Kaufman from the ombudsman's office came
just one day after Democrat Al Gore formally conceded the
extraordinary presidential election to Republican George W. Bush,
the two term governor of Texas.
Kaufman, a 30 year EPA veteran who helped to craft many of the
nation's major hazardous waste cleanup laws, called the move
"politically motivated revenge."
"It's revenge of the EPA bureaucracy and revenge of the politicos
who wanted Gore elected," Kaufman told ENS. "After Gore
conceded, there was a confluence of revenge from the politicos and
the entrenched bureaucracy to cripple to ombudsman's office."
The EPA ombudsman's office is responsible for investigating
citizen and congressional complaints leveled against the agency's
implementation of the Superfund cleanup program and other
hazardous waste cleanup efforts. Headed up by ombudsman
Robert Martin, the tiny watchdog office has been a major thorn in
the side of the EPA, exposing a host of flawed cleanup plans and a
rash of government/polluter collusion.
Three of the office's biggest and most widely publicized cases
involving EPA wrongdoing came in the states of Ohio and Florida -
both of which Gore narrowly lost in the recent presidential election.
Gore, the self styled environmental candidate in the presidential
race, almost certainly lost credibility - and votes - because of his
ties to those unsavory matters, Kaufman said.
"More importantly, the EPA bureaucracy and the politicos think
those cases hurt [Gore] in those states," Kaufman said. "It's not
what I think - it's what they think."
Kaufman denied that he was out to unfairly embarrass the EPA or
Gore. He maintained that he abided by EPA regulations and all
applicable state and federal laws in conducting his investigations,
which he said were based on the principle that "the public's
business ought to be done in public."
"Tim [Fields] told me that my actions undermined the credibility of
the agency," Kaufman told ENS. "That's true - my actions do
undermine the credibility of certain bureaucrats who are not doing
Fields had not responded to repeated ENS queries about
Kaufman's removal as of Monday afternoon. But in a story
published Friday in the Idaho newspaper the "Coeur d'Alene
Press," Fields said that he did not "plan to discuss why [Kaufman]
"I didn't make this decision based on timing," Fields told the
newspaper. "I just felt like it would be inappropriate to leave this
problem with a new assistant administrator."
That explanation is not good enough for a host of federal
lawmakers who have called on the ombudsman's office to
investigate EPA cleanup plans in their districts. Among the
lawmakers outraged by the move to oust Kaufman is Congressman
Michael Bilirakis, a Florida Republican who chairs a House
subcommittee on public health and the environment.
Earlier this year, Bilirakis requested that the ombudsman's office
investigate a controversial EPA Superfund site in Tarpon Springs,
Florida, On Friday, he drafted a letter to President-elect George W.
Bush about Kaufman's abrupt removal. The letter, which Bilirakis
circulated on the House floor, alerts Bush to what the lawmakers
refer to as a "very serious situation that is occurring at the ... EPA
in the waning days of the Clinton administration."
The letter says that Fields has "started the process of what
appears to be a retribution against the National Ombudsman and
his staff in order to subvert them from doing their very important
work." The letter calls on Bush to "restore and support the National
Ombudsman and his staff," and adds that "we look to your
administration to undo the damage that is being initiated by the
Clinton appointees in the immediate wake after Vice President Al
Gore's concession speech."
Senator Wayne Allard, a Republican from Colorado, said he was
also deeply troubled by Kaufman's removal. Allard, who called on
the ombudsman's office to uncover the truth about the Shattuck
Superfund Site in Denver, called Kaufman's removal "vindictive."
"I've known some nasty things to come out of [the Clinton
Administration], but this has got to be one of the worst," Allard told
the "Denver Post."
Allard's press secretary, Sean Conway, told ENS that the Senator
does view the ouster of Kaufman as a "retaliatory action by EPA."
"The message is clear - the reassignment of Hugh Kaufman was
intended to send a message to other EPA employees who might
work within the ombudsman's office, or who might be thinking
about doing the right thing," Conway said. "It sends a chilling
message that these types of actions can take place, and that ...
the EPA can torpedo investigations they don't like by reassigning
Allard will be sending a letter to Fields, demanding an explanation
for Kaufman's ouster and requesting that his investigatory
authorities be reinstated, Conway said.
Allard has authored a bill that would reauthorize the statutory
authority of the ombudsman's office, which expired in 1989. The bill
is designed to give the office more independence from EPA
management, which Allard and many observers feel is attempting
to gut the powers of the internal watchdog agency.
By sacking Kaufman, the EPA may have guaranteed the passage
of Senator Allard's bill, Conway said.
"Unwittingly, the last action of this administration may have been to
insure passage of this bill, because there is now a perfect example
of why the reauthorization of the ombudsman's office is so
important," Conway said. "We've been hearing for months from the
EPA that they're not going to try and compromise the
independence . but we now have essentially, the proof of the
Other U.S. Senators and members of Congress are also drafting
letters to President-elect Bush and Fields, demanding that
Kaufman be allowed to return to his work in the ombudsman's
office, sources tell ENS.
Citizens who live in the vicinity of Superfund sites investigated by
the ombudsman's office were also angered by Kaufman's removal.
Mary Mosley, a resident of Tarpon Springs, Florida, got to know
Kaufman during his investigation of the Stauffer
Mosley said that EPA put her community through a "nightmare"
during the protracted cleanup, but she called Kaufman, Martin and
Bilirakis "men of integrity."
"I believe with all my heart believe it was revenge," Mosley said of
Mosley was present at the now infamous June meeting where
Kaufman - who is not an attorney - read two EPA officials their
Miranda rights prior to their testimony. The officials got up and
walked out of the room, and Kaufman was later reprimanded for the
move by top EPA managers.
"I believe Mr. Kaufman had good reason for doing it," said Mosley.
"I think he was laying the record, at least, for a possible criminal
That was precisely the reason for advising the EPA officials of their
Miranda rights, said Kaufman, who noted that he informed Fields
and other top EPA officials of his intent to do so prior to the
hearing. It was not the inappropriateness of the Miranda warning
that got him into trouble with EPA management - it was the fact
that he had legally linked EPA officials to criminal acts, Kaufman
"They were read their rights and they lied and lied and lied,"
Kaufman said. "That's when the Miranda thing became an issue,
after [the EPA's] position became totally untenable."
Kaufman said that by walking out of the meeting after only 10
minutes, the local EPA officials "spit right in the eye" of
Congressman Bilirakis and the other elected officials present at the
At a Congressional hearing shortly before the November election,
Bilrakis said, "Naturally, my constituents and I were outraged by
this display of contempt - dare I say arrogance - on the part of EPA
Another Florida ombudsman's investigation that did not bode well
for the EPA or Al Gore was the Rivera Beach case in Palm Beach
County, Kaufman said. In that case, Kaufman and his colleagues
investigated the EPA's plan to clean up the drinking water supply of
a poor African American community.
The town's drinking water had been polluted by two large
"Up until we entered the fray, the community had been told by EPA
that they'd have to pay for cleaning up the water themselves,"
Kaufman said. "They tried to stiff this poor black community. The
regional office held a hearing in an exclusive white hotel, and all the
people affected were poor black people. It was unbelievable. It was
The ombudsman's investigation that most directly affected Gore
was arguably at the site of the Waste Technologies Industries
(WTI) hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio. The WTI
plant, which is permitted to burn more than 60,000 tons of
hazardous wastes each year, is located 400 yards from an
The incinerator has been linked to Gore since 1992, when he
pledged to prevent the facility from operating if voters elected him
and Bill Clinton to office. At a campaign stop in July of that year,
Gore said that it was "just unbelievable" that the incinerator was
located in a flood plain next to the school, and he committed the
Clinton administration to shutting the plant down until the "serious
questions" regarding its environmental and public health impacts
could be addressed.
But an ombudsman's investigation revealed that Gore passed on an
opportunity to scuttle the incinerator's trial burn permit in the weeks
between the 1992 election and the 1993 inauguration. In fact, Gore
encouraged outgoing EPA Administrator William Reilly to approve
the incinerator's trial burn permit before he and then President-elect
Bill Clinton assumed power, the ombudsman's
The ombudsman's office released that bombshell on November 2, five days
election day. Gore failed to capture Ohio's 21 electoral votes, which
have won him the White House.
Kaufman had recused himself from the WTI investigation, as he had
testified about the matter before Congress. But he defended the
release date, saying it had been pushed back because EPA had failed to
the ombudsman's office with the necessary resources to complete it earlier
"If they had given the resources ... as they had promised, that case would
been done in July," Kaufman said. "They got hoisted by their own petard."
The General Accounting Office, the investigatory arm of Congress, is
looking in to the EPA's alleged attempts to undermine its own
ombudsman's office, several high placed sources tell ENS. These
sources say that the EPA is planning on releasing a set of
guidelines to govern the ombudsman's office before the new
administration assumes power on January 20th.
These guidelines will essentially gut the investigatory powers of the
office, making it impossible for it to function independently of top
EPA management, sources say.
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