Former Congressman Peter H. Kostmayer, the outspoken chief of the Environmental Protection Agency's mid-Atlantic region, confirmed yesterday that he has been removed from the post that he has held for the past two years.
A top agency official said Mr. Kostmayer is being ousted because of his "abrasive" style. But environmentalists complained that he had angered powerful politicians and business interests by raising legitimate objections to their "pet projects."
Mr. Kostmayer said EPA Administrator Carol Browner contacted him about a month ago and asked him to resign by June 1. She did not cite any specific issue, he said, but told him she wanted a "different approach."
The Pennsylvania Democrat said that he still hopes to work for the Clinton administration or the president's re-election campaign and that he doesn't fault Ms. Browner for her decision, saying she faces "difficult circumstances."
A source close to Mr. Kostmayer suggested that his departure was requested by West Virginia's senators and governor, who were angered because the regional EPA chief had raised objections to a highway project and a new paper mill. Ms. Browner overruled Mr. Kostmayer's objections to the highway, the source said.
But David Cohen, a top aide to the EPA administrator, disputed this account. Mr. Kostmayer's ouster had nothing to do with the West Virginia projects or any other single issue, he said.
Ms. Browner wanted someone "who is more a consensus builder, less abrasive," said Mr. Cohen, adding that even some members of Mr. Kostmayer's staff in Philadelphia complained about him.
Mr. Kostmayer has clashed with officials in almost every state in his region. He sparred with Virginia and Pennsylvania over their refusal to expand auto emissions testing, and confronted Virginia over alleged deficiencies in its enforcement of air and water pollution laws.
He had similar, though less public disputes with Maryland officials. He questioned a proposed highway in the Washington suburbs long sought by local officials to ease traffic congestion. He also sought, unsuccessfully, to hold up a state permit allowing a developer to bulldoze wetlands on a former farm near Ocean City.
Mr. Kostmayer said that he pushed his agency to become more involved in development projects because suburban sprawl gobbles up farmland and natural areas.
"Maryland has lost 73 percent of its wetlands since it became a state," he noted, and suburban Philadelphia, where he lives, is losing 50 acres of farmland a week.
Maryland environmentalists praised Mr. Kostmayerand suggested he had been removed to appease critics at a time when the Clinton administration is fighting efforts in Congress to overhaul or weaken the nation's environmental laws.
"If you stand in the way of the pet project of a politician, it looks like you get fired for doing your job," said Glen Besa of the American Lung Association.
"He was outspoken and energetic and very interested in the Bay," said Ann Powers, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "He will be missed."