DEC worker who challenged air permit accused of insubordination

Posted: Wednesday, April 03, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A worker with the state Department of Environmental Conservation has been accused of insubordination after raising concerns about a proposed air permit for a BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. oil production center on the North Slope.

According to a report in Wednesday's Anchorage Daily News, the issue stems from an internal e-mail message sent by Bill MacClarence, the agency's supervisor of air-operating permits. In addition, MacClarence has said DEC has relaxed state pollution testing rules that he helped create -- a move he fears could allow more pollution in the oil fields and other parts of Alaska. DEC has asked the state attorney general's office to review the allegation.

The dispute comes 3 1/2 months after two other DEC oil regulators were stripped of authority to oversee some North Slope oil activities. One of those regulators, Susan Harvey, has since resigned, saying politics in a state heavily dependent on oil money was partly why she chose to leave.

A public employee group says MacClarence's bosses are disciplining him for doing his job too well.

''Bill MacClarence is being harassed for refusing to ignore major pollution violations by a favored company,'' said Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

PEER describes itself as a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit working to improve environmental accountability in government agencies. Among its supporters are groups opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, although PEER has not taken a stand on the debate, Ruch said.

But Michele Brown, DEC commissioner, questions PEER's motives, saying the group is attacking her agency while DEC is still taking comments on BP's air permit.

''This seems to be an unabashed attempt to influence the permit before the permit is even closed,'' Brown said.

MacClarence has worked for 20 years at DEC and supervises the renewal of air-quality permits for diesel generators, oil production centers and other facilities statewide. He plans to retire in three months.

Last week, DEC officials told MacClarence he faced a disciplinary hearing -- and possibly termination -- for violating orders to not e-mail concerns on the BP permit to employees below his rank. DEC officials canceled the Tuesday hearing but said MacClarence's case is still under review.

He sent the e-mail message to at least one worker under him who is charged with handling the BP permit. MacClarence said he made his comments as a private citizen, not a DEC employee, although he did include his title next to his name in the March 23 e-mail message.

Brown and other agency officials declined to comment on the dispute, calling it a personnel matter.

Besides raising technical issues with the BP permit, MacClarence says a new DEC policy violates the federal Clean Air Act.

The agency has revised complicated guidelines MacClarence developed that are used to decide when to test air pollution levels around the state.

The oil industry, environmentalists and others commented on the testing guidelines, and ''the oil industry was not in favor of them,'' said John Kuterbach, manager of the air-permits program and MacClarence's boss.

Kuterbach said DEC reviewed the public comments and made revisions.

But MacClarence said DEC changed the guidelines to make it ''cheaper'' for the oil industry to comply. ''What this does is allow them to pollute more,'' he said.

Kuterbach disagrees and said DEC has asked the state attorney general's office to review the allegation.

MacClarence has contacted his union, the Alaska Public Employees Association, which said it is reviewing the dispute.

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