Senate Committee Approves EPA Enforcement Nominee

Bush pick unqualified for post


Maria Weidner, Ken Goldman

Earthjustice expressed concern today over the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s recommendation that John Peter Suarez be confirmed to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal environmental enforcement program. The group is troubled by the fact that Suarez has no experience with environmental issues. As assistant administrator for EPA’s office of enforcement and compliance assurance, Suarez would be responsible for ensuring the enforcement of federal environmental laws and programs. The position requires confirmation from the Senate.

“Based on our research, Mr. Suarez is the least-qualified individual nominated to lead the environmental enforcement program since the office opened its doors more than three decades ago,” said Maria Weidner, White House Watch policy advocate for Earthjustice. “This nomination sharply underscores the concerns we have about the Bush administration’s overall commitment to enforcing the laws that protect clean water, clean air, and the health of our communities.

Earthjustice noted that the Bush administration’s first selection for EPA’s top enforcement post, Donald Schregardus, had a horrible environmental record; his nomination faced staunch opposition from the public and several Senators because of his dismal tenure as director of Ohio EPA. Schregardus ultimately withdrew from consideration for the post last September. Having failed that effort, the administration tapped Mr. Suarez — someone with no environmental record at all. “It appears that for the Bush administration, not having a track record of enforcing environmental laws is a necessary requirement for consideration to head EPA’s enforcement program,” Weidner said.

John Peter Suarez has served since 1999 as director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. Before that, he was at the US Attorney’s Office from1992 to1998, where his work focused on issues such as tax evasion, drug enforcement, and mail fraud. He also served for a short time as Assistant Counsel to the Governor of New Jersey and also with the Division of Criminal Justice.

Besides difficulties filling the position of ‘top cop’ at EPA, other developments over the last year at the office of enforcement and compliance assurance include the President’s 2003 budget, which called for deep cuts in civil enforcement and compliance personnel, as well as steep reductions in performance goals and measures for inspections and in criminal and civil investigations.

“The confirmation of JP Suarez is just the latest manifestation of this administration’s overt hostility to environmental enforcement,” said Weidner. “The Bush administration is intent on reducing OECA to a skeleton crew with no captain,” she concluded.

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