Ohio regulator: Coal industry forced resignation

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A veteran state environmental regulator told staffers in an email Monday that Republican Gov. John Kasich was forcing his resignation after pressure from the coal industry.

George Elmaraghy’s message, distributed widely to employees of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said the Division of Surface Water, which he’s headed since 2005, faced “considerable pressure” this year to accommodate industry demands.

“Because of the industry’s interpretation of the federal Clean Water Act and state water pollution control laws, DSW staff worked under difficult conditions but you have done your jobs honorably,” Elmaraghy wrote.

He said coal companies sought permits that he said would have violated state and federal laws and harmed Ohio’s streams and wetlands.

The email went on to say that Kasich and Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally had asked Elmaraghy to resign effective Sept. 13. He has been with the agency for 39 years.

A Kasich spokesman deferred comment to the Ohio EPA.

An agency spokeswoman, Carol Hester, said she couldn’t discuss personnel matters but defended Ohio’s water permitting process as sound. She said permits face intense scrutiny.

“There are several checks and balances built into the regulatory process,” Hester said in a statement. “Permits we issue must withstand scrutiny not only from U.S. EPA, but must stand up on appeal to the (Ohio) Environmental Review Appeals Commission and other courts. Those third parties ultimately determine if any action under appeal was issued lawfully and reasonably.”

Messages seeking comment were left at Elmaraghy’s office and with the Ohio Coal Association. An answering machine at Elmaraghy’s home was full.