State senator reluctant to support appointment of former DNR official

Thursday, October 1, 2009 | 5:06 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A Republican state senator said Thursday he is withholding support for the appointment of a former Missouri environmental official involved in the delayed release of E. coli test results.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he wants more information before deciding whether to support Joe Bindbeutel for an appointment to the Administrative Hearing Commission. Bindbeutel was deputy director and general counsel at the Department of Natural Resources when it took a month to release test results from May 26 that showed high bacteria levels in the Lake of the Ozarks.

Schaefer's statement came one day after Gov. Jay Nixon disclosed that a public beach at the lake was not closed before the Memorial Day weekend that began Friday, May 22, despite high bacteria levels discovered in a different testing program. The governor said he was wrongly told by the department that the beach had been closed.

Bindbeutel was appointed to the Administrative Hearing Commission in late June and has been serving on the commission because the nomination came when the Missouri General Assembly was not in session. To stay on, he must be confirmed by the Senate when it convenes in January. The Administrative Hearing Commission is responsible for considering appeals of decisions by state agencies. There are three commissioners.

Schaefer, a former department official who worked with Bindbeutel when both were at the attorney general's office, said he wants to discuss the appointment with Nixon's office. Bindbeutel lives in Schaefer's legislative district, and by tradition, nominees need the support of their home senator.

"While I continue to call Joe a friend, I cannot in good conscience support his pending nomination to the Administrative Hearing Commission without further consultation with the governor's office and reviewing the evidence being collected by the Senate committee examining these actions," Schaefer said.

Bindbeutel told The Associated Press on Thursday that he was not involved in the decision on whether to close the public beach. He said he was disappointed by Schaefer's decision but expects to eventually be confirmed.

Nixon's administration has been under fire since July, when media reports revealed the department had waited until late June to release the results of tests taken May 26 that showed high E. coli levels at numerous other locations in the lake.

A Senate environment committee, upon which Schaefer sits, is investigating how the department handled the test results. Bindbeutel was scheduled to be interviewed by Senate investigators Thursday.

Bindbeutel, who led the Environmental Protection Division within the attorney general's office, said public health was not threatened by the delayed release of the May 26 test results because most of the E. coli would have been dead by the time he examined the findings.

"From the day that those results reached my desk and in a form that I could analyze them, I did not believe there was any threat to human health or the environment," he said. "If I did suspect there was, I would have handled them very differently."


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