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Four EPA officials quit

By GREGORY GORDON

WASHINGTON -- Moving swiftly to put his own stamp on the agency, administrator William Ruckelshaus sought and received the resignations of four top Environmental Protection Agency officials during his first two days in office.

This brought to 20 the number of political appointees who have stepped down during the recent stir.

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While Ruckelshaus took a personal hand in the latest shakeup on his second day of office, several EPA officials were subpoenaed for grand jury testimony Friday into investigations of possible perjury by former agency officials who testified to Congress.

Sources said the grand jury would begin hearing testimony next Thursday in the first confirmation that criminal prosecutions could result from the agency controversy.

Ruckelshaus met with four top-level EPA officials and requested the resignations of two, Frederic Eidsness Jr., assistant administrator for water, and Kathleen Bennett, assistant administrator for air, noise and radiation. Each then wrote resignation letters to President Reagan. White House officials said they would be accepted.

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Ruckelshaus also requested resignations of regional EPA chiefs Peter Bibko of Philadelphia and Lester Sutton of Boston.

However, the new EPA chief asked Eidsness and Mrs. Bennett to remain as special assistants during the transition period, and issued a statement praising their 'extraordinary competence and professionalism.'

Eidsness and Bibko both have been under internal investigations.

Some ranking EPA officials also said Ruckelshaus was seeking the resignation of Sonia Crow, chief of EPA's San Francisco regional office. An agency spokesman said her resignation letter had not been received, and an aide to Ms. Crow said in San Francisco that 'we have no knowledge of any change in her status.'

In addition, sources said, Ruckelshaus withdrew the Senate nomination of Courtney Riordan to serve as assistant administrator for research and development. Riordan, one of two top-ranking EPA officials to survive the recent shakeups, will remain in the post in an acting capacity while Ruckelshaus reviews the nomination.

EPA officials confirmed Michael Sawyer, who handled scheduling for former agency administrator Anne Burford and later transferred to EPA's Office of International Activities, was asked to resign Wednesday by Fitzhugh Green, Ruckelshaus' appointee to head that office.

Rep. Mike Synar, D-Okla., chairman of one of a half dozen panels investigating EPA mismanagement, political shenanigans and industry ties during Mrs. Burford's stewardship, cautioned the latest shakeup would be of little significance 'if Mr. Ruckelshaus simply appoints a new group of foxes to guard the henhouse.

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'I hope new nominees more sensitive to the public interest will be appointed and confirmed expeditiously,' he said.

Federal marshals served subpoenas on several agency employees for testimony about evidence of perjury by Rita Lavelle, former chief of the agency's toxic waste cleanup unit, and Robert Perry, the agency's former general counsel, sources said.

In another development, House Speaker Thomas O'Neill referred to the U.S. attorney's office a contempt of Congress citation against Ms. Lavelle, punishable by up to a year in prison, for her refusal to testify to a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. The panel is exploring whether she and White House aides politically manipulated Superfund waste cleanup money.

EPA's inspector general's office had recommended a five-day suspension for Bibko because of his alleged use of government telephones to make 300 personal calls over a 13-month period and alleged misuse of a government chauffeur.

Bibko said in a resignation letter to Ruckelshaus he would be unable to help the agency 'recapture its former public image ... because of the libelous publicity that I continue to receive.'

Eidsness has been under investigation by the inspector general's office on several fronts. He has been questioned by the FBI because of disclosures he met privately in late January with James Sanderson, a former adviser to Mrs. Burford who was serving as an attorney for a private waste disposal company. Days later, Eidsness, reversed his staff and ordered speedy processing of a permit for the company's controversial incineration ship.

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