WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency's hazardous waste ombudsman filed suit Thursday to prevent the Bush administration from reshuffling his congressionally established office.
Robert Martin, who handles citizen complaints on waste and Superfund matters, asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to block EPA Administrator Christie Whitman from moving the ombudsman's office to the EPA's Inspector General's Office.
Martin contends the move would weaken his independence within the agency. He said in court papers the action was being taken because he has been an outspoken critic of corporations' influence in Superfund cases, large environmental cleanups that involve the worst types of hazardous waste.
Without a favorable court ruling, he said, the agency will move him, his secretary and a geologist from two large office suites into cramped quarters next week. Whitman said in announcing the shake-up on Nov. 27 that Martin's relocation would enhance his credibility while conducting investigations by putting him within the inspector general's office, which is independent from the rest of the EPA.
But Martin, who has ruffled feathers among Republicans in Congress and the former Clinton White House, said the move effectively abolishes his authority. A watchdog group, the Government Accountability Project, joined him in the lawsuit.
On Nov. 27, the Labor Department ruled that the Clinton EPA should not have prohibited Martin's former chief investigator, Hugh Kaufman, from helping Martin investigate complaints. Kaufman had filed a whistleblower complaint after his job description was rewritten.