Officials Reviewing Conflict-Of-Interest Charges Against 2 Regulators

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SACRAMENTO — Ethics officials are reviewing allegations that two of state's top environmental regulators violated conflict-of-interest rules by regulating companies in which they own stock.

Officials at the Fair Political Practices Commission said Wednesday they are studying a complaint that Odette Madriago, chief deputy director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, and Stewart Black, deputy director of the agency's brownfields and environmental restoration division, may have improperly taken regulatory actions affecting the operations of oil, chemical and manufacturing companies in which they have financial interests.

The toxics agency is responsible for managing hazardous waste.

The ethics probe was spurred by Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based group that has accused the agency of allowing polluters to operate on expired permits for years and of neglecting to revoke the permits of companies that repeatedly flouted environmental laws.

Consumer Watchdog cited disclosure forms showing Madriago has held between $10,001 and $100,000 in shares of Chevron and BP Amoco over the past six years, as well as between $100,001 and $1 million in shares of General Electric — all companies the agency regulates. Black also has investments in oil and chemical companies, they said.

"It is an unseemly conflict in an agency that has fallen down on the job," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.

Agency officials countered that the two managers had taken steps to avoid conflicts of interest by disclosing their stocks.

Nevertheless, the agency's legal office is reviewing the officials' disclosure "forms, their past decisions and the potential for conflict due to their positions," said spokeswoman Charlotte Fadipe. "So far, our legal office has seen no evidence of impropriety or violations or evidence that any laws have been broken."

She added: "The laws are not intended to deter state employees from having investments, but require that employees and appointees declare their holdings."

Meanwhile, lawmakers have called for a legislative investigation of the agency, after raising concerns about lax enforcement.

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