New California EPA to Focus Primarily on Enforcement Department, Raised to Cabinet Level, Unites Environmental Agencies under One Roof

Article excerpt

ON the wall of James M. Strock's small corner office here hangs a photo of Eugene D'Allesandro being led away in handcuffs after being arrested for illegal hazardous-waste disposal in 1988.

"I keep it there because it's a symbol for what this office is all about," says Mr. Strock, who was sworn in last week by Gov. Pete Wilson as head of the new California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA). D'Allesandro's arrest and conviction came during Strock's tenure as chief enforcement officer at the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

"You can talk and talk about all these transcendentally important (environmental) issues, but in the end enforcement and stopping real-life activities is what it's all about," he says.

Within hours of his swearing-in ceremony, Strock was at work, personally surveying the damage caused by an 11,000-gallon herbicide spill in the Sacramento River. The spilled chemical, metham sodium, has killed more than 100,000 fish on its way to Shasta Lake, a major source of state drinking water.

Had the new agency already been in place, claimed Gov. Pete Wilson, the conditions that led to the Southern Pacific freight train spill might never have occurred. The Cal/EPA fulfills Wilson's major campaign promise to "take charge of California's environment in the 1990s."

"It will probably be the most significant environmental agency in the country at a state level," says Mike Paparian, a lawyer for the Sierra Club.

Strock says the goal of the new EPA is to create a national, even global model that is "smart, tough, creative, vigorous, and fair.... Environmental problems are not divided like environmental laws between air, water, (solid and toxic) waste, pesticides - they cut across the board," he says. "California needs an agency that does so as well."

With management of these sectors under a single agency, Strock's mandate is to provide more consistency, less waste, and more results.

"You are getting one of the nation's most creative and effective environmental enforcers," said his previous boss at the US EPA, Administrator William K. Reilly. "He is aggressive, yet fair."

As assistant administrator for enforcement at the US EPA, Strock won a reputation for strengthening enforcement procedures and for being a conciliatory force between industry representatives and environment- alists.

But as Republican special counsel on the US Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee in the mid-1980s, Strock was criticized for offering amendments to environmental legislation that were strongly opposed by some conservation groups. New structure questioned

Though Cal/EPA will have certain jurisdiction over regulation of air quality, water quality, solid and radioactive waste, and toxic chemicals, details of a "rolling reorganization" have been criticized heavily. …