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Judge puts on hold plan to shift EPA worker

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge Friday temporarily halted a Bush administration plan to reshuffle the office of the Environmental Protection Agency's hazardous waste ombudsman.

U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts issued a temporary restraining order against the government until a full hearing on the matter can be scheduled. The order remains in effect until Feb. 26.

Robert Martin, who handles citizen complaints on waste and Superfund matters, has asked the court to block EPA Administrator Christie Whitman from moving the ombudsman's office to the EPA's Inspector General's Office.

Martin contends the move would weaken his independence within the agency. He said in court papers the action was being taken because he has been an outspoken critic of corporations' influence in Superfund cases.

EPA spokesman Joe Martyak denied the agency was trying to weaken Martin's role. "I am confident the court will find the claims unfounded," the spokesman said.