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CHARLESTON, W.Va. - An agreement has been reached between federal and state environmental regulators concerning supervision of state officials who review and sign National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits, officials announced Monday.
In a letter to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Michael P. Miano, director of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, recused himself from all NPDES matters, including supervision responsibilities, until September 11, 1999. These responsibilities will now come under the authority of Governor Cecil Underwood’s Chief of Staff, a position held by James Teets.
W. Michael McCabe, EPA’s mid-Atlantic regional administrator explained, "Director Miano has removed himself from the chain of command on NPDES water permits. This resolves the appearance of a conflict of interest, not allowed under the Clean Water Act."
The federal Clean Water Act regulations ban a person from the permit-approval process for two years if employed by a company that held an NPDES permit. Miano worked for Pittston Coal Co. until he left in late 1997.
NPDES permits are required for discharges into waterways from point sources, including the coal industry, publicly owned wastewater treatment plants, industrial facilities and combined sewer overflows. The permits control pollutant levels in the discharge.
No DEP director has ever signed NPDES permits; they are approved by the head of the state’s Office of Water Resources. Executive orders and state law have made that distinction clear. Under state procedures, the issuing of the water discharge permits has been with the chief of the Office of Water Resources since 1982. However, EPA remained concerned that Mr. Miano’s supervision over the Office of Water Resources presented the appearance of a conflict.
"We are willing to agree to this additional safeguard to ensure the comfort level sought by our federal counterparts," Miano said. "We have worked continuously with EPA to resolve what we considered a technicality. We believe this finally puts the issue to rest."
"Mr. Miano’s delegation of responsibility for the water permitting program has been adequately assured," McCabe said. "Many questions were raised and now have been resolved about his involvement in the permitting decisions. EPA will continue our role in oversight of water, and other programs, including significant NPDES permits, to safeguard the integrity of the process and the protection of public health and the environment in West Virginia."
Miano was sued over the same issue by a citizens’ group June 10. A federal judge dismissed one of the four counts October 19 and referred the three remaining issues to state court. Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Paul Zakaib has scheduled a hearing on the remaining issues for today, November 16.
U.S. District Court Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr. said only the EPA could take action under the federal Clean Water Act to challenge whether Miano had a conflict of interest over the NPDES issue. With this new process in place, McCabe said no further action is planned.
Miano was appointed director of the DEP on May 1 by Governor Underwood. The state Senate confirmed his appointment without debate 29 - 2 on October 20.