Senators drop hold on EPA CIO vote

New Jersey's senators have lifted their hold on the nomination of Molly O'Neill to be the Environmental Protection Agency's CIO, setting the stage for a vote to take place as early as this week when Congress returns for its lame-duck session.

Democrats Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez acted after EPA reversed in part its plan to relax reporting rules for companies that release chemicals into the environment, Lautenberg said in a statement last week.

President Bush nominated O'Neill in late March to be CIO and to head the Office of Environmental Information. EPA has been without a CIO since last December, when Kim Nelson left the post for the private sector. EPA deputy CIO Linda Travers has been acting CIO since December.

The senators had blocked O'Neill's nomination vote since July because EPA had proposed that polluting companies could report every two years instead of annually as part of the Toxics Release Inventory program, a foundation of Lautenberg's 1986 'The Right to Know Act.' The legislation came in the wake of the 1984 chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, that killed thousands.

EPA administrator Stephen Johnson last week wrote Lautenberg, stating he did not intend to move forward with the longer reporting cycle. The lawmakers called the action a small step forward, but pledged to push legislation early next year that would block the rest of the administration's plan to relax current pollution rules.

'While the Bush administration is starting to get religion, they haven't fully converted and are continuing their sacrilegious plan to render right-to-know laws impotent,' Menendez said.

The legislation they plan to introduce this week will prevent EPA from changing the frequency of reporting toxic releases and from adopting any other changes to the Toxics Release Inventory that the agency has proposed and stop EPA from shielding information on the use or release of persistent chemicals, such as lead and mercury.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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