Perseverance on Clean Air Pays Dividends for Browner EPA Chief Still Standing after Bare-Knuckle Brawl over Standards

Article excerpt

While still bracing for a fight in Congress, Carol Browner can breathe a lot easier today.

For weeks, it was rumored the embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency was on the politically endangered species list. The target of a multimillion-dollar negative ad campaign by business and under attack from some of her own colleagues at the White House, she just dug in her heels.

Ms. Browner says current scientific evidence showed the nation's clean-air standards for smog and soot weren't tough enough, and hundreds of thousands of Americans were suffering. "This is about allowing children to play outside on warm summer days," says Browner. Known for staking out strong environmental stands, Browner is not a newcomer to political dogfights. She earned her stripes as legislative director for then-senator Al Gore from 1988-1991. She then moved to head Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation where she took on Walt Disney in a wetlands dispute and wealthy sugarcane growers over use of the Everglades. Many pundits contend Browner's success in the clean-air fight secures her authority within the Clinton Cabinet, and in the history books as a forceful, effective EPA administrator. "She really emerges from this a bright, shinning star," says Gene Karpinski, executive director of the United States Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG). But to the business community, which vows to take its fight to Congress, Browner will be remembered for imposing costly, unnecessary regulations that they predict will cost tens of thousands of jobs. "It's a dark day not for only Ohioans, but for many citizens across this country because a lot of people will be financially hurt this. It's just an extreme mean-spirited position," says Rep. Robert Ney (R) of Ohio. He has introduced a bill to block implementation of the standards and has more than 30 co-sponsors. The business community appeared to be making headway before the Clinton announcement. "If we felt the science warranted it, we'd be fully supportive, but it ... doesn't," says Theresa Larson of the National Association of Manufacturers. More than 250 legislators and almost 30 governors wrote the president and the EPA opposing the proposal, fearing it would stifle economic growth in the inner cities and drive up electric costs in the Midwest. The US Conference of Mayors also went on record this week opposing the move. Last week, there was talk Browner had overstepped her bounds and undermined her own authority by refusing to bend. …