U.S. Senators Probe Departure of EPA Midwest Administrator

WASHINGTON, DC, May 13, 2008 (ENS) – The circumstances surrounding the resignation of Mary Gade, formerly the U.S. EPA’s regional administrator for the Midwest, are under investigation by an environmental committee of the U.S. Senate.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairman Barbara Boxer of California and committee member Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, both Democrats, are asking the Environmental Protection Agency for answers.

“As you know, Congress and the American people expect EPA to enforce vigorously our public health protections – and to preserve the integrity of the enforcement program by excluding politics from such activities,” the senators wrote in a letter today to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

“Against the backdrop of allegations of political intervention in EPA decision-making that have been aired at recent hearings before this Committee, as well as similar allegations that we have heard from EPA staff and seen widely reported in the media, it is important for there to be a full explanation of the circumstances surrounding Ms. Gade’s allegedly forced resignation.”

Former EPA Region 5 Administrator Mary
Gade (Photo courtesy Minnesota
Sea Grant)

On May 2, the “Chicago Tribune” reported that two top aides to Johnson demanded that Gade resign or be fired by June 1, 2008. She has since submitted her resignation and is currently on administrative leave.

According to the Tribune’s story, Gade believed her forced resignation was due to her efforts to push Dow Chemical Company to clean up dioxin contamination in Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron stemming from its Midland, Michigan chemical manufacturing plant. Dioxin is a known carcinogen.

The paper reported that Gade, “has been locked in a heated dispute with Dow about long-delayed plans to clean up dioxin-saturated soil and sediment that extends 50 miles beyond its Midland, Mich., plant into Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. The company dumped the highly toxic and persistent chemical into local rivers for most of the last century.”

The paper also reported that officials from Dow Chemical had met with EPA officials in Washington in January 2008 because they were unhappy with Gade’s approach, and that Gade’s handling of this issue became the subject of criticism from her superiors in Washington.

Senator Whitehouse and others raised the issue of Gade’s resignation at a hearing last week before an Environment and Public Works subcommittee.

George Gray, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Research and Development, declined to answer questions about Gade, saying the agency does not discuss personnel matters.

The Boxer-Whitehouse letter sets out 19 questions about Gade’s resignation. It seeks information and documents on the basis for EPA’s decision to ask Gade to resign and whether the agency discussed that decision with officials from the White House or from Dow Chemical. The senators also asked for copies of Gade’s most recent performance evaluation.

On January 4, 2008, Gade terminated negotiations with Dow Chemical aimed at a settlement to conduct a study and interim cleanup actions for dioxin contamination along the Tittabawassee River system, the Saginaw River and the Saginaw Bay. The negotiations under the Superfund Act began in October 2007 with the participation of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“I am extremely disappointed with this outcome,” said Gade on January 4. “EPA approached negotiations with high hopes and realistic expectations. Our team put in many long hours of good faith efforts that came to an unfortunate end today. EPA is now reviewing its options for ensuring that dioxin contamination in the river system and the Midland area can be fully addressed.”

Dow officials expressed “frustration and disappointment” that Gade had ended negotiations.

David Kepler, Dow’s senior vice president said January 4, “We cannot understand the regional administrator’s decision to terminate negotiations so abruptly. We were prepared to commit immense human and financial resources on early, comprehensive actions, all in full compliance with EPA guidance and regulations.

“We reject Administrator Gade’s characterization in EPA’s press release, and are frustrated that EPA chose to terminate discussions the very day we had committed to submit a follow-up offer,” said Kepler. “This was a real opportunity to actually accelerate resolving the situation; now we’re faced with additional barriers and delays.”

An environmental attorney, Gade was appointed regional administrator of EPA Region 5 in October 2006 to oversee federal environmental programs in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Her more than 20 years of experience includes environmental regulation and enforcement at the federal and state levels, and in the private sector. She had served as director of Illinois EPA under Governor Jim Edgar. During her eight years there, she was a co-founder of the national Environmental Council of States.

Previously, at EPA headquarters in Washington, she served as deputy assistant administrator of the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. She previously held two senior positions at EPA Region 5 as associate division director for Superfund, and deputy director of the Waste Management Division.

View This Story On Eco–mmunity Map.