Senate hold puts new EPA CIO in limbo

The Environmental Protection Agency has been without a CIO since late December, when Kim Nelson left the post for the private sector.

And although the Bush administration nominated Molly O'Neill for the spot in late March, it appears the agency will be waiting even longer as two New Jersey senators have placed an indefinite hold on the nomination. EPA deputy CIO Linda Travers has been the acting CIO since December.

Democrats Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez have stopped O'Neill's nomination vote because of changes EPA has proposed to its Toxic Release Inventory program last year. The program, a central aspect of Lautenberg's 1986 'The Right to Know Act,' requires chemical companies to release information about the chemicals their plants release into the environment.

EPA last September proposed to change the frequency of the public notifications from annually to every other year and also increased the threshold amount of pollution that can be released before notifying the public.

The senators will maintain the hold 'until the administration backs off of this proposal,' said a spokesman for Lautenberg.

EPA deputy press secretary Jessica Emond would not comment specifically on the hold but said the agency "looks forward to Molly O'Neill's confirmation. She has a strong professional background and will be a welcome addition to the EPA staff."

In response to Lautenberg's concerns on the TRI program, Emond said EPA's proposal
would not impact the amount of chemicals facilities are allowed to release under federal, state and local requirements.

"EPA sets a very high environmental bar for companies to meet and will continue to keep the bar high," she said.

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