Who will be the new EPA administrator?

Published January 1, 2001

The tumultuous election of 2000 will cast its shadow over the American polity for years to come. As these lines are being written, Texas Gov. George W. Bush appears to have a slightly better chance of moving into the White House on January 20 than does Vice President Al Gore. But if the latest Presidential election has taught us anything, it is that everything is subject to change.

Whether it’s Bush or Gore who becomes the 43rd President of the United States, among the many tasks facing the next chief executive will be choosing a new administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. Here, in alphabetical order, are the people most prominently mentioned as possible successors to Carol Browner at EPA in a Bush administration.

Becky Norton Dunlop is vice president for external relations for The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. From 1994 to 1998, she served in the cabinet of Virginia Gov. George Allen as Secretary of Natural Resources. (Allen was elected to the Senate on November 7.)

While Secretary, Dunlop was instrumental in thwarting EPA Administrator Carol Browner’s efforts to impose a controversial centralized auto emissions inspection program in Northern Virginia. (See “How Virginia beat the EPA,” Environment & Climate News, September 2000.) She also won a settlement that kept the DC-run Lorton prison from dumping raw sewage into Virginia’s waters.

Her willingness to stand up to EPA did not endear Dunlop to the agency and its allies in the environmental movement. Both have refused to acknowledge what EPA’s own data show: that Virginia’s environment improved substantially during her tenure.

Mary Gade was for many years head of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and is now an attorney with the law firm of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.

While at the Illinois EPA, Gade oversaw a brownfields program, the Tiered Approach to Corrective Action (TACO). TACO was developed with an eye toward avoiding the pitfalls that have plagued the federal Superfund program. TACO has gradually won acceptance with owners of contaminated sites; over 700 have signed up for the program, with over 225 sites already having been cleaned up. (See “States lead the way on cleanup,” Environment & Climate News, August 2000.)

Amy Anderson, senior manager for government affairs with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, says Gade dealt fairly with the business community. “She was always willing to listen to all sides of an issue and allow for flexibility in meeting air-quality goals,” Anderson noted.

However, one program overseen by Gade has been mired in controversy. Illinois’ problem-plagued auto emissions testing program is one of the most expensive in the country, and serious doubts have been raised about how effective it is. (See “New auto emissions test goes up in smoke,” Environment & Climate News, April 1999.)

The program is run by Envirotest Systems Corp., a Sunnyvale, California company, which won the Illinois contract in 1996 without having to face competitive bids. Illinois’ emissions program has been deemed a “disaster” by Ward’s Engine and Vehicle Technology Update, which points to the long lines in front of the testing stations and dubious results derived from Envirotest’s inspections.

While many states have turned their backs on Envirotest, Illinois’ decision to stick with the politically well-connected company is expected to bring the firm $385 million over the next several years.

Russ Harding serves as director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, where he has established a reputation for promoting dialogue between his agency and the regulated community.

Michigan was one of the first states to develop a program of allowing businesses to voluntarily report violations of environmental statutes uncovered during self-audits. If the companies fix the problem within a reasonable time, they don’t face the stiff penalties favored by EPA. Harding points out that such programs increase compliance with environmental laws.

Harding also believes EPA is in need of a thorough overhaul, telling Forbes magazine, “This is by far the most politicized EPA I have seen in my three decades of working in state government. It is an agency driven more by sound bites than by sound science.”

“Harding has struck a balance here in Michigan between protecting the environment and providing for a proper business climate and protecting property rights,” notes Larry Reed, president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, headquartered in Midland, Michigan. “He would make a fine EPA administrator.”

Like Virginia’s Dunlop, Harding has not been afraid to take on Washington and has been attacked by environmental groups for standing up to EPA.

Barry McBee is the former chairman of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Council (TNRCC). McBee is largely credited with reinvigorating the TNRCC, a step that led to substantial improvements in the state’s air and water quality in recent years.

McBee has been a outspoken critic of EPA and is one of many prospective Bush EPA administrators who favor a stronger role for states in determining environmental policy. He told Forbes magazine, “EPA continues to embody an attitude that Washington knows best, that only Washington has the capability to protect our environment. States are closer to the people they protect and closer to the resources and can do a better job.”

James Seif is Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP). In that capacity, he has served under Gov. Tom Ridge, a close friend of Gov. Bush and a man closely considered as Bush’s Vice Presidential running mate.

Like most Rust Belt states, Pennsylvania has its share of abandoned contaminated sites, or “brownfields.” To restore those brownfields to productive use, Pennsylvania has developed a “Land Recycling Program” designed to avoid the red tape that has plagued the federal Superfund program. Over 250 sites have been cleaned up and are back in use, and another 250 sites are undergoing restoration.

Seif found himself in the center of a controversy in June 2000 after admitting his department had disseminated false information concerning the death of an 11-year-old boy, Tony Behun. The child died of a staph infection in 1994 several days after riding his motor bike through a field covered with sewage sludge near his Pennsylvania home. Seif’s department had claimed, falsely, that the boy had died of a bee sting and had not been exposed to sludge. Just as Illinois’ Gade must contend with nagging questions about Envirotest, Seif has not been able to put the sludge controversy behind him.

David Struhs was named Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) by Gov. Jeb Bush in January 1999. From 1995 to 1999, Struhs served as commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Struhs has been supportive of efforts to strengthen the states’ role in environmental decision-making and has criticized EPA for meddling in state affairs. At the same time, he has promoted Florida’s land-buying program, in which “sensitive” private land is purchased for conservation and recreational purposes. Renamed “Florida Forever” in 2000, it is described on FDEP’s Web site as “the most progressive [conservation] program in the nation.”

Should Vice President Gore wind up in the White House, his likely choice for EPA Administrator is Katie McGinty. A long-time Gore confidant, McGinty served as director of the White House Counsel on Environmental Quality for most of the Clinton-Gore administration. She was a key Gore adviser on environmental policy during the recent Presidential campaign.

The Philadelphia native’s views on the environment are indistinguishable from those of Gore and Browner. She played a key behind-the-scenes role in the creation of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah in 1996—a designation which effectively blocked access to one of the world’s largest deposits of clean-burning coal. McGinty also is a fervent backer of Gore’s global warming policies.

Bonner R. Cohen is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia.