White House renews call for EPA cabinet legislation

The White House Wednesday called on US lawmakers to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to cabinet-level status soon after the new Congress convenes in late January.

Nov 20th, 2002

Maureen Lorenzetti
Washington Editor

HOUSTON, Nov. 20 -- The White House Wednesday called on US lawmakers to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to cabinet-level status soon after the new Congress convenes in late January.

"It's time for this to happen; it's overdue," said James Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, in an interview on the sidelines of an industry climate change conference in Houston sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute.

The remarks come a day after the White House won a major legislative victory; Congress largely approved the Bush administration's blueprint for a new Department of Homeland Security.

Congress last year considered bipartisan efforts to elevate EPA, now an independent agency. But serious discussions for a new department were put on the back burner following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US.

But Connaughton said it's time to refocus on the issue, and "the sooner the better." He said the White House supports efforts by House Committee on Science Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) to redesignate the agency as the Department of Environmental Protection.

Republican policymakers say elevating the agency to a cabinet position will give EPA some respect on the international policy stage and help the White House convince skeptics at home and abroad that it takes environmental protection seriously. Democrats support the change as well, because the move potentially expands the clout of government officials interested in promoting a green agenda.

Ironically, the renewed interest in EPA's status comes at a time when Washington lobbyists are speculating that the current administrator, former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, plans to leave the agency before the new Congress convenes in January. EPA officials deny Whitman plans on leaving soon.

Other goals
Another top environmental goal for the Bush administration will be for Congress to pass a multipollutant clean air plan designed to give companies a market-based approach to meeting emission standards for mercury, sulfur, and nitrogen oxide, the CEQ chairman said. Bush unveiled the emissions plan last February as the "Clear Skies Initiative."

That proposal was strongly resisted by the environmental community and their supporters in Congress, because it did not include carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Next year, Connaughton said the administration hopes the plan will get a better hearing, when administration officials renew their efforts to move the "Clear Skies" plan forward.

And one thing that Clear Skies is guaranteed not to include is any reference to mandatory CO2 controls.

"That's not going to happen," he said.

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