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Ex-D.C. official details concerns to green groups

- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2012

Five weeks after he accepted national awards in his role as director of the D.C. Department of the Environment, the agency's former chief Christophe Tulou arrived in a downtown office building for a gathering where there were many familiar faces from the city government and environmental community.

But Thursday's gathering was a meeting unlike any Mr. Tulou attended as a city official. And there was only one item on the agenda: his firing.

Though largely silent until now, environmental leaders met to talk about D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray's decision to fire Mr. Tulou for what city officials described only as a "breach of protocol."

Even as the agency's interim director sat quietly listening in the same room, Mr. Tulou told city environmental leaders of what he said was a move afoot within the Gray administration to chill the "volume and the nature of the regulatory actions" at the department.

"I don't know how one aspires to a sustainable D.C. vision as articulated by the mayor in April when you're taking the guts out of an agency that is going to be central to making that happen," Mr. Tulou said. "As great as the vision is, and as robust as the mayor's intentions are he has people working for him whose intentions are exactly the opposite."

Mr. Tulou was one of several attendees who raised sharp questions about whether D.C. City Administrator Allen Lew would play a role in shaping or rolling back environmental policies.

Mr. Lew did not attend the meeting, but two cabinet officials for Mr. Gray did: Harriet Tregoning, the city's planning director, and Keith Anderson, the Department of the Environment's interim director. Neither would discuss personnel issues surrounding Mr. Tulou's firing, but both sought to assure the environmental community that the Gray administration remained committed to environmental priorities.

"We're already on this amazing trajectory, and that's not all we're going to do. We're going to do a lot more," said Ms. Tregoning, citing a host of programs and initiatives in recent years to improve the environment. "I'm fully committed, the mayor's fully committed."

Mr. Anderson, meanwhile, said nothing about the department staff's goal of a clean and sustainable environment has changed.

But he declined to discuss a federal whistleblower complaint Mr. Tulou filed last week. The complaint alleged that Mr. Tulou was fired over comments his department had sent to the Environmental Protection Agency raising questions about a pollution cleanup plan backed by DC Water, the city's water utility.

The draft plan called for delaying one or more of the deadlines to build underground tunnels called for in a 2005, multibillion-dollar consent decree to clean the city's polluted rivers while officials test a "green infrastructure" pilot program.

The program, potentially less expensive but still unproven, would seek to reduce pollution runoff through a large-scale deployment of rain gardens, porous pavement, "green roofs" and other techniques.

Under Mr. Tulou, the department sent comments to D.C. Water and the EPA raising questions about the delay of tunnel construction as well as technical issues. But days earlier, Mr. Gray had separately sent the EPA a letter of his own backing D.C. Water's plan. Mr. Tulou said his agency wasn't told of the mayor's letter.

Asked if the Department of the Environment continues to stand by the comments it submitted on the draft agreement under Mr. Tulou, Mr. Anderson declined to comment.

The public meeting, held in a downtown office next to The Washington Post building, was organized by the DC Environmental Network. Officials said they would probably soon discuss how to respond to Mr. Tulou's firing.

At the start of the meeting, the network's executive director, Chris Weiss, said activists were concerned about the impact of Mr. Tulou's firing on the city's environmental initiatives and the Department of the Environment's regulatory muscle.

"It's important for us to have this discussion and figure out where we go from here," Mr. Weiss said.

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