Phillips Questions Ohio EPA Water Chief’s Resignation

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State Rep. Debbie Phillips (D-94th Dist.) received a less than enthusiastic response after calling on Governor Kasich to release documents pertaining to the sudden resignation of the Ohio EPA's chief water expert.

George Elmaraghy, chief of the Ohio EPA's division of surface-water, said in an email to his staff earlier this month that he was asked to resign by Governor Kasich and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Nally citing "considerable pressure" from coal companies. 

Phillips sent a letter to Kasich and Nally asking for various records, including correspondence and communication concerning Elmaraghy and coal companies. 

In an emailed statement to the Columbus Dispatch, Rob Nichols, a Kasich spokesman, had a less than enthusiastic response to Phillips' request. 

"You’d be hard-pressed to find a job creator that she hasn’t opposed, vilified or protested at some point,” Nichols wrote. “If she had her way, we’d all be living on a collective farm cooking organic quinoa over a dung fire. So, I think we’ll take her views in context.”

Tracy Maxwell Heard, leader of the House Democrats, said during a conference call with reporters that the statement was "unacceptable, inexcusable, absolutely unprofessional."  

Phillips on the other hand considered the comments a distraction from the issue. 

"I just think that it raised very serious questions about whether people with professional expertise are able to do their job in this administration or whether campaign donors have undue influence in trying to get the results that they want from state agencies," Phillips said.  

Despite fracking and other environmental issues being a major subject of debate in her district, Phillips says she is just doing what's right. 

"Obviously he has worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations so it shouldn't be political but this administration has certainly appeared to be pretty heavy handed with agencies in trying to get their way," Phillips said.

Phillips pointed to the March 2011 resignation of former State Superintendent Deborah Delisle as one similar instance. 

Lisle was asked by Governor Kasich to resign and was replaced by Stan Heffner who himself resigned amidst ethics complaints. Heffner was eventually replaced by one of Kasich's education advisers. 

Phillips says she has not personally spoken to Elmaraghy about his resignation. 

Elmarghy has reportedly hired an attorney in an effort to keep his job.