- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

The independent investigator at the Environmental Protection Agency is suing Administrator Christie Whitman to block her from eliminating his job.

Ombudsman Robert J. Martin said the move to dissolve his position came after he exposed a financial conflict of interest between Mrs. Whitman's husband and polluters at two cleanup sites.

Mr. Martin and the Government Accountability Project yesterday asked for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the transfer of his duties to the inspector general's office.

They also asked that Mr. Martin's files be protected to complete the investigation of the Shattuck Superfund site in Colorado and the Marjol Battery cleanup in Pennsylvania.

According to an agency memo, Mr. Martin will be assigned to an "unclassified position," which effectively dissolves the position of national ombudsman.

"This is far worse than a gag order. It is an effective death sentence for the concept of an independent citizens watchdog at EPA," said Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project (GAP).

"The interests of Mrs. Whitman's husband have defeated the public interest, to the extent of condemning Denver, Colorado, and Shroop, Pennsylvania, citizens to centuries of toxic poisons in their city's back yard," Mr. Devine said.

An EPA spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

The decision to merge the EPA inspector general's office with the independent office was announced in November by Mrs. Whitman.

She said then that her decision was based on a General Accounting Office report and that it would increase accountability and record keeping.

John Whitman is the managing partner of a venture capital firm controlled by Citicorp, a subsidiary of Citigroup, a diversified financial corporation.

Additionally, Citigroup stocks valued between $100,000 and $250,000 are listed in Mrs. Whitman's financial disclosure statement, said Martin E. Andersen, GAP spokesman.

Citigroup is responsible for the original botched cleanup of the Colorado site and will pay only one-fifth of the $35 million cost. A Citigroup financial partner also is responsible for the cleanup at a waste site in Pennsylvania containing lead contamination, Mr. Andersen said.

Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican, also has asked Mrs. Whitman to delay the transfer, which is scheduled for Monday.

"The negative results of this decision must be considered Congress must have time to fully analyze the repercussions of this move before it occurs," Mr. Allard said in a letter Wednesday.

Congress is considering legislation on the organizational structure of the ombudsman office.

"It seems to me that any transfer of the ombudsman until Congress has an opportunity to discuss the legislation is premature," Mr. Allard said.

Mr. Martin also announced this week that his office is investigating the EPA's evaluation of environmental conditions endured by rescue and cleanup crews at the World Trade Center.

Mrs. Whitman assured workers and nearby residents of the safety of air and water at the site. However, published reports say many workers are suffering from respiratory problems.

According to GAP, one of the largest insurance companies handling medical claims for workers and residents at ground zero is Travelers Insurance, also owned by Citigroup.

This is not the first time Mr. Whitman's business dealings have crossed paths with his wife's political career.

When Mrs. Whitman was governor of New Jersey, the state awarded a $1.6 million grant to an Internet company, Mail.com, which Mr. Whitman directed, according the Star-Ledger newspaper in Newark.

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