Volume 17 • Issue 24 | Nov. 5 - Nov. 12, 2004

E.P.A.’s 9/11 leader to leave

Change for the Clinton-Bush panel unveiled the day after the election

By Ronda Kaysen

Paul Gilman, chairperson of the E.P.A. World Trade Center Expert Technical Panel will resign at the end of the month to the surprise of many — and relief of some.

Gilman, also the assistant administrator for research and development for the Environmental Protection Agency, will leave the agency on Nov. 30, according to Michael Brown, a spokesperson for the E.P.A. As head of the panel, Gilman steered 16 government and independent experts in devising recommendations for the E.P.A. to measure the environmental impact of the World Trade Center disaster.

The panel was well received by community leaders who had criticized the agency’s initial response to 9/11 and its subsequent program to clean and test Downtown apartments for asbestos. Gilman and his colleagues indicated in July that they were moving to institute a new testing program that included apartments, offices, firehouses and schools south of Houston St. opposed to the first program, which only included apartments up to Canal St. At the time Gilman told Downtown Express that it would cost about $12,000 per unit and no more than $9.6 million in total.

The program was called a step in the right direction by many E.P.A. critics, but the agency has not yet approved the plan and advocates are beginning to step up the pressure to have it implemented.

Although some saw Gilman’s departure as a blow, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler said he is not so sure.

“I’m hopeful with a new chairman maybe we can get the panel to do what it’s supposed to do,” said Nadler, who called for the creation of the panel a year ago with Senator Hilary Clinton. The panel, he said, has “dragged its feet.” Nadler said either Gilman was responsible for moving slowly or “maybe he was under orders not to do anything.” He recalled the E.P.A.’s initial deception to the public regarding W.T.C. air quality.

Last week, prior to Gilman’s quiet resignation, Senator Clinton called on the Bush administration “to take immediate action and implement a comprehensive testing and cleanup program,” according to a press release.

“The panel’s work is not complete, but I have received assurances from E.P.A. that the panel will continue uninterrupted after Dr. Gilman’s departure,” Senator Clinton said in a statement e-mailed to Downtown Express. Clinton, who got the E.P.A. to create the panel by holding up the Senate confirmation of E.P.A. administrator Michael Leavitt last year, added that “the panel has made progress” during Gilman’s tenure.

Brown of the E.P.A. insists the panel – and the E.P.A. – have been responsive, working on schedule and will continue to do so. “The work of the WTC expert panel is precisely where it should be. It’s where Senator Clinton and the White House council [on Environmental Quality] designed it to be,” he said. “It’s a scientific process. It’s not like a Judy Garland movie. It must be designed to rigorous standards.” The E.P.A., he said, will implement the sampling plan when it is finalized. Currently, a draft of the plan is available for public comment.

The nature of Gilman’s departure raised eyebrows among community members. “I was shocked,” said Micki Siegel de Hernandez, the alternate community liaison to the E.P.A panel. She spoke with Gilman on the afternoon of Nov. 3 — hours after he announced his resignation to his staff – and he made no mention of his impending departure. His omission, more than his departure itself, struck de Hernandez as odd. She speculated that perhaps he did not want the changing of the guards to affect the panel’s work.

Catherine McVay Hughes, the panel’s community liaison, sees Gilman’s departure as a setback. “It will be a loss for the panel,” she said. “Dr. Gilman led the panel in the right direction, but there is still room for a lot of improvement in the sampling program and related cleanup.” Under Gilman’s watch, the panel has been responsive and supportive to community concern, said Hughes. Whether that will continue with a new leader, remains to be seen.

“Is this going to lead us to the E.P.A. taking proper action or is this going to lead us to have to make a dramatic regrouping?” said Kimberly Flynn, member of 9/11 Environmental Action. Gilman and the panel, she said, were generally responsive to community concerns, although the results that come back each month from the E.P.A. often do not reflect what have been discussed and agreed upon at the previous month’s meeting. “We have two kinds of experiences with the panel. A lot of the panelists agree with the community at the meetings,” she said. “In between meetings, ground that the community feels it has gained washes out.”

One E.P.A. critic, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, suggested that Gilman’s departure the day after President Bush was reelected might have political motivations. Either Gilman left because it became evident to him that the E.P.A., under the current administration, would never implement the panel’s recommendations or he left because the revised parameters of the plan no longer represented the initial intentions of the Bush administration.

Brown said that Gilman waited until after the election to leave so it wouldn’t be characterized as political. “In the vein of the ‘Godfather,’ he was made an offer that was too good to refuse in September,” said Brown. Gilman decided, “The timing would be better if he waited until after the election. He didn’t want others to characterize it as something other than it is,” said Brown.

Nadler agrees with the E.P.A. on this much, at least. “A political motivation would be if he left a day before the election,” he said.

Gilman will lead “a new consortium of major research universities,” said Brown. Whoever replaces him will continue the spirit of the panel. Nevertheless, “there’s only one Paul Gilman,” he said.

Gilman is expected to lead the next public hearing of the E.P.A. expert panel scheduled for Nov. 15 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at St. John’s University at Murray and West Sts. For more information, call 800-803-2833 or go to www.E.P.A.gov/wtc/panel.

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com



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