However, in the ongoing crisis since the chemical spill, EPA officials had been nowhere to be found prior to Garvin's interview. They might have been working behind the scenes, but EPA officials had not appeared at government briefings and had refused repeated interview requests.
Garvin reiterated prepared agency statements that said the state government was taking the lead in responding to the spill. He said the EPA would not take over unless there was an "imminent and substantial" danger that West Virginia agencies were not able to handle or were not handling appropriately.
"We feel that activities that are going on, on the ground, under the state lead and the contractors and the water department are what anybody else would be doing, so we're just providing support," Garvin said.
Garvin said he was not familiar with new information that emerged Wednesday that Freedom Industries had taken toxic materials from the spill site for storage at a Nitro facility where DEP officials later allegedly found a variety of environmental violations.
Also, Garvin said, he believes the spill response has been handled in a "transparent manner," despite the refusal of federal officials to explain in any detail how they calculated the 1-part-per-million figure the government and the water company are telling residents is safe.
For several days, the Gazette had asked to interview EPA officials who are assisting in all aspects of the agency's response -- from water sampling to cleanup to determining what level of the chemical is safe. The Gazette also has been unsuccessfully seeking interviews with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which helped devise the emergency chemical guidance.
Before Wednesday, the EPA had, like the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, declined to make any of its officials available for interviews.
Asked why, EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson told the Gazette, "Our role right now is very limited. As we look at this, we are looking at where we have a role. Right now, that has not been determined."
Despite promises from President Obama that his would be a transparent administration, the Obama EPA has been criticized by groups -- including the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Union of Concerned Scientists -- for not being open with the news media, the public and the scientific community. Republican leaders in Congress have seized on the agency's closed-door policies in their efforts to clamp down on EPA regulatory efforts.
On Wednesday, EPA officials unveiled a website titled, "Charleston WV Chemical Leak" which lists its on-scene coordinators but provides few details about what the EPA is or isn't doing.
"All over its website, the EPA calls itself a public-health agency," said Celeste Monforton, a public health researcher with George Washington University. "A key tenet of public health is communicating openly with the public and being present to respond to public concern -- even when it doesn't have all the answers.
"[The] EPA's failure to do so damaged the public confidence that [the] EPA has the community's best interests in mind," Monforton said Wednesday.
Staff writer David Gutman contributed to this report.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.