The administrator who oversees the state’s efforts to protect streams, lakes and wetlands from pollution says he will resign in September, after the governor asked him to step down over disputes with the coal industry.
In an email sent to his staff yesterday and obtained by The Dispatch, George Elmaraghy, chief of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s division of surface water, wrote that the coal industry wants “permits that may have a negative impact on Ohio’s streams and wetlands and violate state and federal laws.
“Now, due to this situation, the governor’s office and the director have asked me to resign my position.”
The resignation will be effective on Sept. 13.
Elmaraghy had worked at the agency in various roles for 39 years. State records list his annual salary as $103,926.
“I will always greatly appreciate your help and support while I was division chief, and I urge all of you to maintain the high standards of integrity that have always marked our division,” he wrote.
Elmaraghy, 66, did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.
Rob Nichols, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, said the governor’s office does not discuss personnel matters and referred all questions to the Ohio EPA. Ohio EPA officials and Director Scott Nally sent a statement that defended the agency’s commitment to protecting Ohio’s waterways.
Since Kasich began his gubernatorial campaign in 2009, Ohio coal interests have poured nearly $1 million into campaign coffers of statewide and legislative candidates, a Dispatch analysis of secretary of state data shows.
The Kasich campaign received about $130,000; House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, took in about $85,000.
More than $870,000 of the overall amount comes from just two coal families: the Boiches, who run the Boich companies, and Robert Murray, who runs Murray Energy.
The Boiches made nearly 70 contributions of at least $10,000, including 44 at the maximum of a little more than $11,300.
Environmental advocates described Elmaraghy as fair-minded.
“George is a consummate professional, very committed to the mission of the agency,” said Jed Thorp, manager of the Sierra Club’s Ohio chapter. “He always made decisions that were in the best interest of the environment and the people of Ohio.”
The Ohio EPA and the state’s coal industry have a history of disputes over permits that businesses must obtain before they can remove streams and wetlands or fill them in. These permits attempt to minimize environmental damage and outline the work needed to repair or replace waterways.
In 2008, state lawmakers advanced an industry-backed bill that would have transferred the Ohio EPA’s authority to oversee such permits for coal companies to mining regulators at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. It did not pass.
That same year, the EPA denied a permit request from Murray Energy to dam a small Belmont County stream, called Casey Run, and use it as a storage lagoon for coal slurry.
EPA officials said the lagoon was a pollution threat to nearby Captina Creek, home to the endangered eastern hellbender salamander.
In July 2012, federal officials said they were considering expanding the company’s current lagoon to create an additional 10 to 15 years of storage capacity. In an email yesterday, Murray Energy said that a permit to create the Casey Run lagoon was still pending.
As far as Elmaraghy’s resignation is concerned, the company said, “Murray Energy Corporation and its subsidiary companies were not involved in anything at the (Ohio) EPA.”
Zane Daniels, president of the Ohio Coal Association, said he had heard nothing of Elmaraghy’s resignation.
By Spencer Hunt - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
Dispatch Public Affairs Editor Darrel Rowland contributed to this story.
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