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    No reason to fire environment agency deputy head - minister

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    Russia's natural resources minister said Thursday he was satisfied with the work of the outspoken deputy head of Russia's environment watchdog, whose boss is seeking his dismissal.

    MOSCOW, December 14 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's natural resources minister said Thursday he was satisfied with the work of the outspoken deputy head of Russia's environment watchdog, whose boss is seeking his dismissal.

    Oleg Mitvol has led a crackdown on a vast Shell-led oil and gas project in Russia's Far East, Sakhalin II, and overseen inspections of a series of leading Russian and foreign mining and hydrocarbon companies. He is also known for radical moves such as ordering the demolition of cottages in a water-protection zone near Moscow.

    "If the heads of all agencies, including those subordinate to the Ministry of Natural Resources, worked as effectively as Oleg Mitvol, many existing problems would have already been resolved," Yury Trutnev said.

    Sergei Sai, the head of the Federal Agency for the Oversight of Natural Resources, wrote a letter to the minister Wednesday, requesting an official probe into Mitvol's activities, a reprimand, and his dismissal.

    But Trutnev said in response that even a strong specialist can have shortcomings. "Mitvol, for instance, should tighten control over hydrotechnical facilities. However, judging by the public reaction, the work of the agency's head appears to have been less effective than that of his deputy," the minister said.

    Trutnev urged Sai to focus on the shortcomings in his own work, which were indicated at a meeting with prosecutors last week.

    The agency's chief was subjected to criticism last Friday, when Trutnev said Russian authorities had all but lost control over compliance with environmental laws in the development of mineral resources.

    "Over 10% of oil is produced in excess of volumes set out in documents," the minister said at a ministry meeting with the Prosecutor's General Office.

    Trutnev said control over issuing mineral development licenses has also been loosened, and that while 12,000 such licenses have been granted, the system for monitoring them and the inventory of oil wells were only introduced recently.

    The minister said he would ask the government to consider reprimanding Sai, whose agency has conducted half as many checks this year as in 2005.

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