An Environmental Protection Agency official who was accused of lying under oath to Congress resigned last night, saying she plans to return to California.
Rita Lavelle, a top assistant to EPA Administrator Anne M. Gorsuch, issued a statement saying, "I have accomplished what I set out to do--to get the agency's hazardous waste and Superfund programs started and on good footing. Having met this goal, I'm ready to get back to California.
"The year I've spent at EPA has occasioned long hours of hard work, but I feel rewarded for being associated with these programs, which are so important."
Lavelle, who oversaw EPA operations concerning the cleanup of hazardous waste sites, has been heavily involved with Gorsuch in the fight over House subpoenas for documents relating to EPA investigations.
The House voted last year to cite Gorsuch for contempt of Congress in the matter, and on Thursday a federal court here refused to go along with a Justice Department attempt to block the House action. Gorsuch refused to provide a House committee with the subpoenaed documents.
Last month, Rep. James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.), chairman of a House Science and Technology subcommittee, said he was "leaning very heavily" toward asking the Justice Department to pursue a perjury prosecution against Lavelle in regard to her congressional testimony concerning Hugh Kaufman, an EPA employe who had complained about enforcement procedures.
Scheuer said yesterday that Lavelle's resignation, which is effective immediately, "is an entirely appropriate consequence of actions taken during the course of her tenure . . . . I believe our subcommittee had prepared a strong case for perjury charges as a result of . . . Lavelle's testimony regarding her involvement in harassing an EPA employe critical of agency enforcement procedures."
The EPA announced last week that Lavelle had hired a private lawyer to defend her "personal interests" in any lawsuits stemming from her administration of the nation's toxic waste laws.
Congressional sources said last night that Lavelle and others at EPA are under congressional investigation for possible conflicts of interest involving their actions relating to the Stringfellow acid pits, a priority hazardous waste site in California. The sources said that investigation will continue despite Lavelle's resignation.
Documents dealing with Stringfellow were among those the EPA refused to provide to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
A letter obtained by The Washington Post indicates that Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of that committee, warned Gorsuch last week that, "We are reviewing allegations that the distribution of Superfund money has been manipulated for political purposes, and we are investigating allegations of misconduct and unethical behavior by an agency official."
His letter indicated that Dingell wanted to interview a number of EPA employes concerning the allegations. The interviews, which were to have started this week, were postponed indefinitely after the EPA said they could go forward only with an EPA observer present, according to a congressional source.