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Ohio lawmaker calls for state EPA director subpoena in Sebring water crisis

January 28, 2016
Democrat Newsroom

State Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) today called on the Ohio House of Representatives to subpoena Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler to answer questions relating to the state’s failure to protect the public for some six months after toxic drinking water was found in Sebring and Beloit, Ohio.

The lawmaker has repeatedly called on the director of the Ohio EPA to provide the public with answers to basic questions surrounding the renewal of water permits and sluggish communication that forced seniors, pregnant mothers and children to unknowingly drink water contaminated with copper and lead.

“We have received no answer to our repeated questions about steps taken by the EPA, which shares a moral and legal obligation to notify the public when such a crisis evolves, to remedy this crisis.” Boccieri wrote in the letter to Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger.

EPA Director Butler is Gov. John Kasich’s former policy advisor and was appointed by Gov. Kasich to the Ohio EPA after the former director resigned amid questions of improper political pressure on state water regulators.

A copy of the letter is attached with text available below: 

Dear Speaker Rosenberger,

As you may be well aware, we are experiencing a public health crisis in Sebring, Ohio that has similar characteristics to the situation in Flint, Michigan with regard to contaminated drinking water. The first I learned of this public health crisis was last Thursday, after the Director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Craig Butler, asked me to participate in a conference call to announce the state’s necessary and robust response to this emerging public health crisis. Since I last spoke with Director Butler, more homes have tested positive for lead, the community is still under an EPA advisory and will be so for the next several months, and lead has been found in public schools prompting school officials to cancel classes for several days. The most serious problem identified is that several children have tested positive for lead in their blood.

My mission right now is two-fold. First, I want to make sure the community has safe drinking water while under this EPA advisory, and that the children who are affected get the best possible care. Second, I want to ensure that we amend the process in which the state responds to such health crises so that this does not happen in another community across the state. To that end, we have sent Director Butler repeated requests asking what his regional field office did or did not do after the state-certified lab results came back positive in late August. To date, we have received no answer to repeated questions about steps taken by the EPA, which shares a moral and legal obligation to notify the public when such a crisis evolves.

What we have seen from Director Butler is nothing short of evasive and is as incomplete as the data that he is accusing the Sebring Water Superintendent of providing. The information EPA sent to legislators contained the same documents the agency ‘dumped’ to the media on Sunday evening. I had to personally call the state-certified vendor directly to obtain the exact date when the EPA first learned of contaminated water. Senator Schiavoni and I asked Director Butler to stand before the public he is charged with protecting to answer questions about the state process, just as local officials and I did on Monday at a village council meeting. We have heard no response about the Director’s willingness or unwillingness to do so. Further, we learned today that he visited the Village unexpectedly without announcing his arrival to local officials nor myself. This crisis demands more professionalism than we have seen from Director Butler. I am requesting that since he will not answer my questions, the Village’s questions, nor the media’s questions, that under Ohio House Rule 33 a vote be taken in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to subpoena Director Butler to respond to questions that remain unanswered.

Your help to this end would ensure that the residents of my community know that we have their back during a public health crisis and hold accountable the people who are charged with protecting them.

Thank you for your consideration.



State Representative

59th House District