CAROL BROWNER, administrator of the embattled Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), has had no illusions about the forces
GOP critics have vilified the EPA as the "Gestapo of government"
and a "job-killing agency" - this for a department that a year ago
was slated to join the Cabinet.
But when the Republican-ruled House voted last week to slash Ms.
Browner's $7.2 billion budget by one-third and take 18 specific
steps to curb or eliminate its enforcement powers, she became
alarmed over "the concerted, orchestrated assault on how we do our
The House proposals are the biggest challenge to government as
guardian of environmental protection and safety since federal
authorities first assumed the role 25 years ago.
Browner has picked up the GOP gauntlet, giving media interviews
and lobbying hard in the Senate to save her agency. She takes some
comfort in President Clinton's vow to use his veto power "the
minute this polluters' protection act hits my desk." Some
Republican senators are also concerned that the House has gone too
far. But Browner claims she has been shut out of the congressional
Her repeated efforts to meet with House Speaker Newt Gingrich
(R) of Georgia have failed. "There's no genuine willingness on the
part of the leadership and its following to have an honest debate,
because they are beholden to special interests. It is lobbying at
its most successful, its most triumphant," she says.
At her threadbare suite of offices in the nondescript EPA
headquarters in Washington, Browner acknowledges that the EPA, for
many lawmakers, epitomizes federal intrusion into business. The
agency's 18,600 employees are charged with enforcing regulations
ranging from drinking-water quality to nuclear-waste cleanup to
pollution-control devices on cars.
The House Republicans' move to pare down the EPA is the clearest
repudiation of big government - proposed EPA budget cuts are the
biggest for any targeted federal agency. Republicans and business
groups say it is time to redress the balance between economic and
environmental interests. But Browner argues that the cuts are being
pushed by one of the most effective special-interest campaigns in
the 104th Congress.
AMERICAN businesses are sparing no expense in trying to get
regulatory relief from their burdensome compliance costs. They
spend millions of dollars each year to meet EPA regulations, a sum
they say is steadily climbing and puts them at a disadvantage in
competing with largely unregulated foreign firms.
In recent weeks, the halls of the Capitol have been packed with
lobbyists from the nation's most powerful oil and gas companies,
chemicals manufacturers, pharmaceutical firms, real estate
developers, and others who recognize a chance to cut their costs by
attacking the EPA bureaucracy.
"This is not about reform, this is about shutting the system
down," asserts Browner.
Her comments are punctuated by stark warnings to the American
public. If the House bill comes to pass, she says, beachgoers
enjoying the ocean surf, and those fishing and boating in the
country's thousands of rivers and lakes, will see more raw sewage,
chemical discharge, and medical waste contaminating their waters.
The 2,279 beach closings EPA recorded last year will multiply in
years to come, she predicts.
But business leaders reject the Clinton administration's
contention that the reformers seek a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil
approach, damaging to the environment.
"Our basic view is not to abolish the agency but to require it
to develop a better system of benefit-cost analysis," says John
Snow, chief executive of CSX Corporation and chairman of the
Business Roundtable, the nation's premier advocacy group for
business. "The best-case scenario is that a reformed, rational EPA
use good science and apply market principles to its regulations,"
he says. …