Air Date: Week of January 8, 1993
Reporter Alex van Oss profiles Carol Browner, Bill Clinton's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Browner is a confidant of Vice President-elect Al Gore, and in two years heading Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation she earned a reputation as a tough but creative administrator.
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
BROWNER: I'm thrilled to be here. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to serve at a time when environmental protection and restoration will finally receive the attention and commitment it deserves . . . (fade under)
CURWOOD: Carol Browner was little known outside of Washington and Florida when President-elect Clinton recently brought her to Little Rock, to present her as his choice to head the US Environmental Protection Agency. Born in Florida and steeped in grassroots environmental activism, Browner currently has recently been balancing two jobs: head of Vice-president-elect Gore's transition team. . . and chief of Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation. She may be relatively unknown , but as Alex van Oss reports from Washington, Carol Browner has already made her mark.
VAN OSS: At age 37, Carol Browner is one of the younger members of Clinton's top-level appointees. Since her nomination to head EPA, she's been called everything from "ideal" to "abrasive." But both supporters and detractors of Browner agree that the self-proclaimed environmentalist is a direct person who can hold her own in tough negotiations.
MICAH: In Carol's case, when she went before legislative committees, she was a very aggressive person.
VAN OSS: David Micah was a classmate of Carol Browner at the University of Florida, where she got her undergraduate and law degrees. Micah is now associate director of the Florida Petroleum Council, and he's often faced Browner across the negotiating table.
MICAH: Then when we became involved with her in working on specific issues, such as Florida's underground storage tank issues, Secretary Browner was an in-your-face, if you will, environmental activist, and she could cut right through the fluff of any discussions and want to get to the core of what could be done for the environment.
VAN OSS: Still, Micah says, Browner as head of Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation did not let her convictions get in the way of facts and analysis. Browner's credited with reinvigorating one of the nation's largest environment agencies, and for finding creative solutions to some daunting problems. For example, she worked out a first-of-a-kind, long-term deal with Disney World, in which the giant corporation got permission to develop more than 400 acres of wetland in exchange for purchasing, preserving and improving a tract of land almost twenty times the size, a refuge for the bald eagle and other wildlife. One high Disney official calls Browner a "visionary with integrity," who could, she said, reach accomodations without compromising Florida's environmental review process. Not every business in Florida is so complimentary about Browner's environmental vision.
BUCHER: Really, what you have here is a land-use plan. And if you look at the big picture, what you have is that the environmentalists have a vision of the future for land use and this is just a way of backing into that.
VAN OSS: That's Robert Bucher, senior vice president of the US Sugar Corporation, speaking in 1991 about a settlement between Florida and the Federal Government over cleaning up the Everglades, another mega-project. Browner played a large role in that settlement, which Bucher says put much of the clean-up costs on local sugar farmers. Bucher says that sugar interests have successfully challenged in court Browner's rule-making process. There are other concerns about Browner, such as her close relationship with Vice-President-elect Al Gore, for whom she worked on Capitol Hill. Critics such as Ken Jeffries of the Competitiveness Enterprise Institute, believe that Gore hand-picked Browner for the EPA position, and Jeffries says that connection may compromise her independence. He says the appointment will unleash what he calls Browner's "native environmentalist instincts" at the helm of an agency which is shifting and expanding its scope.
JEFFRIES: In the past, EPA focused on public health and protection of the environment from things like minute quantities of pesticide residues or dioxin in the water, something like that. And these were essentially health-based standards. I think in the future we will see under Carol Browner the EPA moving much more strongly in the direction of land and natural resource management, such as wetlands issues, endangered species, a host of legislative policies that are coming up for reauthorization during her period at EPA.
VAN OSS: Jeffries says Browner lacks the administrative experience to manage a major agency which requires one to delegate authority. Rick Hind of Greenpeace says that, on the other hand, there's no better place than Florida in which to learn the harsh realities of protecting the environment.
HIND: To anyone who's visited Florida recently, and knows that, a state that 90 percent of its drinking water comes from about 6 inches below the surface, to a state that is rapidly becoming as congested as New Jersey in population and development, the environment couldn't be a higher priority in that state or anywhere else.
VAN OSS: Transition officials declined to make Carol Browner available for this report, but in an interview with the New York Times, she laid out three early goals at the EPA -- speeding up decision-making, streamlining management of the huge Superfund program, and restoring credibility to an agency which has been criticized by both environmental and business groups alike during the Bush and Reagan Administrations. Despite the unknowns in any new executive team, whether the new EPA head will be overshadowed by the Vice President, or whether she puts her own stamp on environmental policy, it does seem likely that Carol Browner will be a different kind of EPA director, with a closer and possibly more effective relationship with the White House than has been seen in many years. For Living on Earth, this is Alex van Oss in Washington.
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