George Elmaraghy, the chief of the division of surface water for Ohio’s EPA, recently came to a sensible conclusion: permits sought by the coal industry would likely “have a negative impact on Ohio’s streams and wetlands and violate state and federal laws.” Elmaraghy, a 39-year veteran of the state agency, knew of what he spoke (thanks to my colleague Will Femia for the tip).
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), however, not only disagreed, he asked Elmaraghy to resign. In fact, “asked” and “resign” are almost certainly the wrong words – the 66-year-old Elmaraghy did not want to leave, and explained to state officials he had no intention of retiring yet, but was told his career was over anyway.
Over the last several weeks, a variety of folks, including Democrats in the state legislature and newspaper editorial boards, have sought some kind of explanation for Elmaraghy’s ouster. Kasich, meanwhile, doesn’t want to talk about it.
That’s up to him, of course, but in the meantime, Elmaraghy seems to have plenty to say. He talked at length to TPM’s Dylan Scott, who heard of a gubernatorial administration “beholden to the coal industry and willing to push out employees who weren’t going to capitulate to its demands.”
In Elmaraghy’s mind, there seems only one explanation for what had happened: Kasich office’s demanded his removal because Elmaraghy wasn’t getting along with the coal industry. He repeatedly told TPM that nobody had ever mentioned problems with his job performance or told him what he had specifically done that led to his forced resignation.
“I am left with the impression that somebody in the Governor’s office thought that removing me … would please the coal industry,” he wrote in a Friday goodbye email to his colleagues. “I sincerely hope that my suspicion is wrong.”
It hardly seems unreasonable to think his suspicions are right.
Let’s also not overlook this tidbit:
Elmaraghy said he isn’t alone in being targeted by Kasich’s office for clashing with coal companies. He mentioned Bruce Goff, another Ohio EPA official who had been overseeing mining applications, who Elmaraghy said had been reassigned for raising similar concerns.
Reached by phone, Goff confirmed to TPM that he did formerly work on coal permits, but had since been reassigned. He declined to comment further.
“I’m not at this point able to really explain what happened,” Goff said. “I’m still working here. I have to figure out my career plans.”
As for Elmaraghy, he’s hired a lawyer, has appealed his resignation to the Ohio Personnel Board of Review, and still has hopes that he can get his old job back.