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Critics seek answers in alleged ousting of high-ranking Ohio EPA official

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A top Ohio Environmental Protection Agency executive took his official leave from office on Sept. 13 after being allegedly asked to resign by the governor’s office and the director of OEPA.

George Elmaraghy, whose 30-plus year career at OEPA included over seven years as the head of the Division of Surface Water, acknowledged overarching pressure from the coal industry during the past year as being a decisive factor for his ousting.

In an email sent to his former colleagues at OEPA, he wrote:

“… There has been considerable pressure from the coal companies over the last year for the division staff to accommodate the industry’s needs by issuing permits that may have a negative impact on Ohio’s streams and wetlands and violate state and federal laws.”

Critics of Ohio Gov. John Kasich and OEPA Director Scott Nally’s alleged ousting of the high-ranking OEPA member are demanding a more thorough and transparent review of the circumstances leading up to his recent dismissal.

In a letter sent to Kasich Aug. 29th, Albany-based Democratic State Rep. Debbie Phillips demanded that specific correspondence between the governor’s office, the OEPA and coal industry executives with respect to Elmaraghy be made public domain under the state of Ohio’s public records law.

“Governor Kasich and his administration need to make decisions based on what’s best for the people of Ohio, rather than paying back campaign donors,” Phillips said in a statement located on her official website. “It seems pretty clear that Mr. Elmaraghy is the latest casualty of the Kasich Administration’s culture of political favoritism.”

Ohio coal companies have donated nearly $130,000 to the incumbent Kasich’s campaign finance fund. This, according to Phillip’s online statement, is only “fueling the perception that Kasich’s ouster of Elmaraghy may have been influenced by moneyed campaign interests.”

Murray Energy Corporation—which, according to their website, is the largest privately owned coal company in America—is one of the industry influences that environmentalist groups have asserted is culpable for the sustained pressure on Elmaraghy and the OEPA.

Robert Murray, CEO of the Murray Energy Corporation, has been an outspoken opponent of what he has described as the “war on coal,” which he said has been propagated by a combination of legislation authored by President Barack Obama’s administration and the federal branch of the EPA, which has restricted coal mining permits across the country in promotion of alternative energy resources such as natural gas.

Murray Energy Corporation currently employs over 3,000 people across its six-state operation, which includes Ohio.

Neither Kasich nor OEPA Director Nally has offered to directly comment on the resignation of Elmaraghy.

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