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Federal judge extends temporary restraining order halting EPA plan to move ombudsman's office
By John Heilprin, The Associated Press, April 5, 2002

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal judge on Friday extended his temporary restraining order prohibiting the Bush administration from moving the office of the Environmental Protection Agency's hazardous waste ombudsman.
After the hearing, ombudsman Robert Martin's supporters lingered in the courtroom and angrily confronted the EPA's spokesman. "I've never seen an agency where so many people are so dishonest," Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., told EPA spokesman Joe Martyak.
    Nadler and other New York residents complained that it was only through the ombudsman's efforts that they began to get some of their questions answered about the air quality around the World Trade Center disaster site.
"The ombudsman is the only one who listens," echoed Susan Shortz, a Throop, Pa., member of a citizens review committee concerned about potential cancer-causing dioxins at the site of a former battery recycling plant. Martin issued a report saying the EPA hadn't done enough research into possible lead contamination there.
    Martyak countered that the agency had listened to citizens and had been upfront about its work, and that it should not be blamed for any misunderstandings about its role in cleanups -- confusion that Congress should clear up, he said.
Before the confrontation, U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts said he planned to issue a ruling in the ombudsman's case by the end of next week, when his temporary order is now slated to end. He lengthened the order by five business days and asked the Justice Department to provide him with more information about the EPA's proposal to set some limits on the ombudsman's ability to speak publicly.
    Assistant Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr. told the court the EPA wants to require Martin to have his comments preapproved in some cases because of concerns over criminal investigations. Martin, who handles citizen complaints on waste and Superfund matters, had asked the court to block EPA Administrator Christie Whitman from moving his office to the EPA Inspector General's Office.
    On Jan. 11, the judge issued a temporary order against the government until a full hearing could be scheduled.
Martin argues moving his office would weaken his independence within the agency and reduce him to answering a hot line. He says it is being done in retaliation for his criticism of Whitman's corporate ties in Superfund cases involving large-scale hazardous waste cleanups. The EPA says its actions are based on recommendations from the General Accounting Office.

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