WASHINGTON - Carol Browner, who ran the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton, spoke out yesterday for the first time against Bush administration policies, saying that "the breadth and speed of some of their anti-environmental actions has been stunning."
Browner, who headed the EPA for eight years, said she had been reluctant to criticize a new GOP team whose leader had defeated her mentor, Al Gore. But recent Bush decisions on arsenic in drinking water and carbon dioxide emissions, as well as a proposed budget that cuts environmental enforcement and scientific research, motivated her to go public.
"I recognize they have a different point of view," Browner said in an interview. "But the speed with which they have begun to reverse things is alarming."
The decision by her successor, Christie Whitman, not to implement tighter standards on arsenic in drinking water particularly bothered Browner because the Bush administration said that "not enough science had been done."
"This was a 10-year process mandated by Congress," said Browner, who had ordered the stricter standards in December. "It's unfair to suggest that this extensive scientific process, with public participation, was a rush to judgment. It simply wasn't."
More generally, Bush's proposed budget, released Monday, would reduce the EPA budget 6 percent, with heavy cuts in enforcement. Whitman pointed out that a new $25 million program would help shift responsibility for some enforcement to the states.
Browner argued that states could expand their role, but that should not reduce EPA's work. "Why cut national enforcement unless what you're trying to do is limit the number of big cases that can be filed," shesaid. "That's where you get the greatest reduction in pollution."
She cited strict rules enacted last year aimed at reducing sulfur emissions from diesel trucks and buses by 95 percent as an example of an "industrywide situation" that only EPA can handle.
On global warming, Bush and Whitman have said they will develop their own policies, after backing out of the global Kyoto agreement to curb gas emissions that help cause the problem. In addition, last month Bush reversed a campaign pledge to limit carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants, overruling Whitman.
Browner said Bush's decisions were "precipitous" and "had weakened the United States' role in the international arena on this issue."
She said the new administration may be underestimating public interest in these issues.
"People don't think their air and water are too clean, and they know government has an important role here," said Browner, who recently joined the board of the National Audubon Society. "They want a strong environmental cop on the beat."
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