The Browner perspective: The U.S. EPA administrator explains sustainable development, ozone emission rules and Clinton's environmental achievements

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Copyright 1998 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
October 5, 1998

It's 2:50 last Monday afternoon and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner is clutching her uneaten bagel lunch between her knees in the back of a sport utility vehicle speeding toward Washington's Landing.

The 42-year-old administrator, in Pittsburgh to attend a meeting of the President's Council on Sustainable Development, is supposed to be doing this interview at the Westin William Penn Hotel.. But Mayor Tom Murphy has commandeered Browner for a whirlwind tour of the redeveloped island in the Allegheny River.

Can you do the interview on the way? Uh, sure.

We shoehorned a few questions and answers above the mayor's patter about the new Downtown park along the Allegheny River, the new Alcoa headquarters and the new biking/jogging trail along the river behind the Heinz plant. We wrapped things up when Browner phoned from Washington Tuesday afternoon.

Q: This trip to Pittsburgh was all about sustainable development. What does that term mean to you?

A: It means not having to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy. It means having both. That's something this administration has embraced from the beginning.

When the president first ran for office there were those who said we couldn't have both, yet under his leadership we've set some of the toughest public health and environmental air standards in a generation and at the same time seen the economy take off.

Q: This sustainable development council process has been going on for almost four years now. How would you measure its success?

A: It has been a success. I think every opportunity to engage people, communities, mayors, state elected officials, everybody on the issues of sustainable development and how to put the various pieces together is important.

I think the Nine Mile Run development is a good example. You're going to have people coming back in to the urban center and at the same time living in the kind of houses they want to live in, and clean up a stream and add 130 acres of green space to the park system.

Q: How do you answer critics who say sustainable development is taking away choices, how people shouldn't have to give up a five-bedroom house on two acres on the lake?

A: I think sustainable development is adding choices. At Nine Mile Run, people are being given a type of community in the city with modern, efficient homes that didn't previously exist. That's adding to the list of choices. It's not taking away.

Q: What's been the response to the controversial federal directive last month to have 22 states reduce their ozone-producing emissions?

A: I haven't sat down and read through all the articles, but my sense is that, given the flexibilities we added -- both in terms of reduced impacts on small sources and the additional time for compliance with no detriment to public health, plus the emissions credit trading -- we saw more support than we originally anticipated.

Q: Some of the loudest criticisms came from electric utilities.

A: There are always going to be some in the electric utilities that will oppose this. All we said is the cheapest place to get these reductions, the largest uncontrolled sources, are the utilities and the large industrial boilers. The states can go somewhere else for the reductions if they want to, but I think as they step back and think about where they're going to get their tonnage reductions they'll come to the same conclusion.

Q: What's your response to business and industry groups that say the new regulations are not based on good science?

A: We had over 80 studies that informed our decision on the two new health-based standards. I haven't seen any peer-reviewed, published study that refutes that evidence.

Q: What's next on the EPA's plate?

A: So many things. On air quality we're looking at new standards to reduce tailpipe emissions and new sulfur contents limitations for gasoline. In the water program we're working on implementing the Clean Water Act for drinking water and on the runoff problem from big animal feedlots. On climate change, we're working on energy efficiency programs. The president has asked for $ 210 million and Congress has only OK'd $ 130 million, so there's some work to do there.

Q: Republican members of Congress have attached more than 40 anti-environmental riders to pending spending bills. It happened before, in 1995, and President Clinton vetoed the bills forcing removal of the riders. Is the president committed to another veto?

A: Congress needs to correct the problems and limitations its members have placed on the spending bills, limitations that affect not just the EPA, but also the Interior Department. Congress needs to respond to the desires of the American people, which has said it doesn't want those limitations.

Q: Which riders concern you most?

A: The funding limitation on implementing the Kyoto Protocol (reducing the emission of greenhouse gases) is a primary concern. Report language on mercury emissions by power plants and a proposed moratorium on dredging to clean up PCBs are a concern, as are proposed restrictions on use of brownfields (industrial site redevelopment) money. Those are all issues in the pending bills that the administration feels present a real problem.

Q: Has the president's mess with Lewinsky, the Starr Report and the congressional impeachment process hurt the EPA's agenda?

A: It hasn't and it won't. This administration has always made public health and the environment a priority. The president has stood firm on that in the past, has believed in what we're doing and been extremely supportive. Nothing has changed.

Q: Haven't the president's problems emboldened those who seek to weaken environmental regulations?

A: Congress is doing as it's sought to do all along; create special deals for special interests. That didn't start in the last two months. It's done it consistently in the form of bad bills, cuts in funding and bad riders. We continue to hear from the people and it's clear the Republican congressional leadership doesn't share the public's and the president's positions.

Q: Last week, your name appeared on a list of 50 women who are presidential timber. Have you formed a campaign committee?

A: No. The job I have is a great job. I love my job and am flattered to be included in that list of very impressive women. But my primary focus for the next election is to see the vice president elected president.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO, PHOTO: Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette: U.S. Environmental Protection; Agency Administrator Carol Browner greets developers at the Nine Mile Run; site. She described the planned housing development as an example of; sustainable development that adds modern city homes to the broader mix of; suburban development.

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