CAROL M. BROWNER
Born: Dec. 16, 1955, Miami, Florida
Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency
Appointed at Gore’s specific request
Education: University of Florida (undergraduate)
University of Florida Law School
Worked for Nader-founded Citizen Action
Gore’s Senate staff legislative director
Secretary, Florida Department of Environmental
Transition director for Vice President-elect Gore
Husband: Michael Podhorzer, lobbyist for Citizens
Carol M. Browner is the
political animal par excellence. She’s tough. She’s aggressive.
She’s an ideologue with sufficient savvy to hide it. Early on she
served as a staffer in the Florida House of Representatives, then
legislative assistant to former Sen. Lawton Chiles. She met husband
Michael Podhorzer while working for Citizen Action, a nationwide
consumer, campaign reform, and environmental lobbying group founded by
Heather Booth in 1989.
It claimed 3 million members, an annual
budget of $4.5 million (much of it from the usual prescriptive
foundations), affiliates and chapters across 30 states, making it the
largest consumer organization of its kind. It
collapsed in 1997 in a money laundering scandal trying to influence a
Teamsters Union presidential election.
The EPA Bailiwick:
Browner runs one of the creepiest of the mission creeps: from a modest
beginning in 1970, the EPA has acquired nearly 20,000 employees and an
annual budget of $7 billion. The numbers are a poor measure of EPA’s
power because 1) its regulations have the force of law, 2) the agency
can jail people, 3) it can close factories, 4) it can override the
judgments of local authorities, and 5) it subsidizes scientists and
environmental groups that support its policies with government grants.
EPA is perhaps the federal
agency most susceptible to mission creep. It was created by President
Richard Nixon in a reorganization order. Congress didn’t authorize it
or give it a mission or define its regulatory powers. It was stuck
together from a mish-mash of existing federal programs. It took over
what eventually grew into thirteen environmental statutes, each with
its own constituencies.
EPA became the perfect
instrument for a federal power grab, turning local issues—chemical
spills, groundwater contamination, abandoned dump sites—into federal
EPA administrators were not
slow to see the possibilites. Douglas Costle in 1978 shifted the focus
of the agency to protect not just the environment but also health—your
People care about the
environment, but we’re much more concerned about our health. Tell
Americans about an alleged threat to our health and we break out in a
sweat. If it’s cancer, we panic. Costle launched the EPA on a cancer
hunt, looking for carcinogens in foods and air and water. Cancerphobia
expanded his agency’s reach and wrung more money from Congress.
Asbestos. Dioxin. PCBs. Alar. Sunlight.
Creep, creep, creep. Through
Then came Gore and Browner.
Browner put scads of mission
creeps from environmental groups into top EPA jobs. A sample:
Clean Water Action: Deputy Assistant Administrator, EPA Office of
Administration and Resource Management.
Natural Resources Defense Council: Senior Counsel to EPA Assistant
Secretary for Air and Radiation.
J. Charles Fox,
Friends of the Earth: Special Assistant (Reinvention) to EPA
Administrator Carol Browner.
David M. Gardiner,
Sierra Club: Assistant EPA Administrator for Policy Planning and
Natural Resources Defense Council: EPA General Counsel.
Mary D. Nichols,
Tennessee Environmental Action Fund, Southern Environmental Law
Center: Associate EPA Administrator for Air & Radiation.
D. Reid Wilson,
Sierra Club Political Action Committee: Director of Public Liaison
Division, EPA Office of Communications, Education & Public Affairs.
Browner’s loyalty to Gore’s
centralizing vision can be illustrated by her victories in two key
areas: racheting up regulations by decree and subverting local
EPA has gained a reputation for imposing many
unnecessary costs on American industry, dismantling industrial
civilization piece by piece—costs that do more to satisfy bureaucratic
zeal than to clean the air or water. Browner gave EPA a lot of that
Her most spectacular victory
came in 1997 over clean air regulations. The Clean Air Act requires
the EPA to review standards for assorted pollutants at least every
five years. These standards are legal definitions of what qualifies as
healthy air. Once levels are set, the EPA wrangles with states,
localities and industries over how they can be met. Compliance plans
often stretch out over a number of years. Air quality has improved
dramatically since passage of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990.
Cities that spent fortunes complying with clean air rules
hoped—especially in areas that needed new jobs—that the standards
would remain stable. They thought they had done the job. The EPA’s own
data showed that particulate levels had a huge drop over the previous
decade. Most cities expected to be removed from the list of so-called
nonattainment areas for ozone and particulate matter—smog and soot.
But the American Lung
Association had sued the EPA in 1993, forcing the agency to review the
existing standards regarding ground-level ozone and particulate
matter. EPA examined 5,000 scientific studies, held public meetings
and submitted its preliminary findings to a panel of outside
scientists. On the basis of the data, the decision could go either
In November of 1996, Browner,
following Gore’s plan, set up a power play of breathtaking scope: she
abruptly announced the most significant rewriting of federal air
quality standards since the 1970s—the administration had already
failed to get BTU taxes through Congress, and a secret 1994 White
House memo proposed no fewer than 39 different taxes and fees on
energy the administration could impose under existing statutes,
without having to get congressional approval. This was the followup.
The new regulations would
force scores of states and cities to do their State Implementation
Plans (SIPs) all over, either finding new ways to cut pollution or
facing sanctions, including the loss of federal highway money. It was
a risky but bold way to begin phasing out the use of coal and other
fossil fuels, as Gore had recommended in his book.
Why did Browner decide on such
a massive and controversial rewrite? It was a strategic strike to
defend bigger plans. Here’s how it worked:
When the Republicans took over
Congress following the 1994 midterm election, EPA found itself
embroiled in a series of conflicts with the new GOP majority on
Capitol Hill. In addition to pushing legislation aimed at reducing
regulatory burdens on businesses and local governments, Republican
lawmakers also sought to cut the budgets of wayward agencies.
With its long history of
well-documented complaints from the regulated community, EPA was an
inviting target. Browner handled the threat crudely at first,
according to a report by the National Wilderness Institute:
On March 15, 1995, Dr.
Rosemarie Russo, director of EPA’s lab in Athens, Ga., received a
phone call from EPA headquarters in Washington, DC. This was no
ordinary phone call; it came from Acting Assistant Administrator Dr.
Gary Foley. Foley asked Russo if anyone on her staff had good
connections with any members of Congress.
Prompting the call was a
vote in the House of Representatives scheduled for that afternoon on
a bill sponsored by Rep. Clifford Stearns (R-Florida) which would
cut EPA’s budget. Foley explained that EPA employees were being
asked to contact lawmakers and try to persuade them to vote against
the bill. According to notes Russo made during the conversation,
Foley said EPA employees should go about this “without getting into
Russo told Foley that the
only person on her staff with such connections was microbiologist
Dr. David L. Lewis who was friends with Rep. Charlie Norwood
(R-Georgia). She asked if she should pass the request on to Lewis,
and Foley answered affirmatively. According to Lewis’s testimony,
Russo was told by Foley that the instructions originated in the
office of Administrator Browner.
For his part, Lewis flatly
refused to contact Norwood, pointing out that having government
employees lobby Congress from their offices and during government
business hours was a clear violation of the Anti-Lobbying Act of
1940 which strictly prohibits executive branch employees from
engaging in such activities. Russo agreed that the request was
Both Lewis and Russo accused
EPA of wrongdoing and were subsequently harassed with false
accusations by Browner’s lieutenants, likely violating federal
whistleblower protection laws. Both had to retain attorneys to defend
themselves. After an extended legal action, EPA settled with Lewis,
but reneged on their agreement. Russo is still fighting.
As it turns out, Stearns had
proposed a bill to de-fund the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA),
not EPA. So EPA headquarters had solicited an illegal act to lobby
against something that didn’t even exist.
That wasn’t all. Nineteen EPA
officials signed and published a letter protesting “egregious conduct”
by EPA under Browner, misdeeds ranging from creating backdated
documents for filing with a federal court to punishing career
scientists for coming up with the “wrong” answers in their research.
All this did not enhance EPA’s budget chances in Congress.
Browner is a bold strategist.
She looked for the main chance.
Rewriting the air regulations
confronted Congress with something that would make slashing her budget
look like heresy.
Browner had a ready-made army
of outside supporters to push for the new regulations—all funded by
American Lung Association.
Between 1990 and 1994, the EPA gave the lung association’s national
office and its various state chapters more than $4 million. In 1995,
the EPA gave the group close to $1 million more. The ALA sued the EPA
almost every year, claiming the agency wasn’t complying with the
nation’s clean air laws, which the EPA welcomed because each suit
expanded the reach of the agency.
Natural Resources Defense
Council. In 1995 alone, the council
got more than $1 million from the EPA. NRDC has repeatedly sued the
EPA, always charging that the EPA isn’t doing enough to protect public
health. Between 1993 and 1996, the agency paid more than $150,000 for
the NRDC’s legal costs. Several NRDC air pollution studies were funded
in part by grants from the EPA.
World Resources Institute.
$310,000 cumulative grants from EPA. $4,180,702 in total government
funding, or 24 percent of its total $17,565,180 1995 revenue. WRI head
Jonathan Lash is one of Al Gore’s top policy circle insiders, well
regarded for his loyal support of the Kyoto Protocol, lower automobile
emissions through higher gas taxes, and as a supporter of Browner’s
new air regulations. Lash came to WRI in 1993 from the Environmental
Law Center at the Vermont Law School where he directed the
environmental law program. He was Vermont Secretary of Natural
Resources and a senior staff attorney for the group mentioned above,
the Natural Resources Defense Council.
New York University.
$383,008 in 1996 over three years to Professor of Environmental
Medicine George D. Thurston to study “acidic particulate matter.” An
activist advocate, Dr. Thurston organized dozens of scientists and
health professionals at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at NYU
School of Medicine, asserting that the current standards “are not
sufficiently protective of public health. Tens of thousands of
hospital visits and premature deaths could be prevented each year by
more stringent air quality standards for these two pollutants [ozone
and particulate matter].”
Harvard School of Public
Health. $196,185 in 1996 over three
years to Professor Joel Schwartz (a MacArthur Foundation “genius”
grant recipient) to study “ultrafine particulate matter.” Schwartz
appeared as the main scientific witness at a May 1997 press conference
held by the Natural Resources Defense Council at which he said the
tiny specks in his study “have killed more people than AIDS” over the
past five years. He vilified a meeting of scientists gathered to
discuss the new regulations as “industry thugs” because they had
accepted industry funding. Harvard’s School of Public Health accepted
$3 million in EPA grants in 1996.
On cue, Carl Pope, executive
director of the Sierra Club, said, “These standards mean fewer sick
days for workers, lowered health care costs and more kids in school
instead of the hospital.”
Playing the children’s health
card always works, as Douglas Costle first realized. What member of
Congress wants to face reelection hung with the stigma of holding out
on sick kids?
Forbes magazine noted that
attendees of Capitol Hill hearings snicker at Browner’s constant
references to her son, Zachary, when she testifies on environmental
issues. But she never misses a chance to repeat the message. In her
prepared testimony before Congress, Browner asked, “How do I put a
dollar value on reductions in a child’s lung function or the premature
aging of lungs or increased susceptibility to respiratory infection?”
“If we can focus on protecting
the children . . . we will be protecting the population at large,
which is obviously our job,” she told Forbes.
As Bonner Cohen asked: Who
said that was her job?
Nobody, but that’s what
mission creep is all about.
Congress had not specifically
authorized the harsher standards, but neither had they given the
agency prudent oversight to keep it in control. Senators and
Representatives quietly cursed their own neglect and loudly howled
that Browner didn’t consult with them first before acting on such an
oppressive and costly new regulation. They were furious.
In June, 1997, Rep. John D.
Dingell (D-MI), then-ranking minority member of the House Commerce
Committee, along with several prominent Democrats, threatened publicly
to “go to war” with the White House over the standards.
That sparked a fierce,
monthlong internal White House war, pitting Browner against White
By early July Browner painted
Bill Clinton into a corner.
The president had stayed out
of the fracas as long as he could, but at the approach of his
scheduled July 26 speech at a United Nations summit on the
environment, European allies criticized him for being slow to agree to
a timetable on reducing greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
The president faced the
politically embarrassing choice of supporting Browner’s unpopular
regulations or repudiating his outspoken EPA administrator at an
awkward moment. It forced his hand.
By tinkering with the details,
Bill Clinton found a way to save face and stalemate Congress.
Particulate standards would be delayed for five years to allow
completion of a nationwide monitoring network. Cities would then have
at least another two years to devise a strategy for reducing air
pollution. Leniency was promised to states participating in pollution
On July 25, 1997, Bill Clinton
came out in support of Carol Browner.
Clinton’s decision was clearly
seen as a tactical victory for Browner. Clinton administration
officials even told the Washington Post of their resentment and said
Clinton did not appreciate the public pressure.
It was a daring gamble for
Browner and Al Gore, for it set them up to implement the global
warming treaty without Senate ratification. The Kyoto Protocol and the
new regulations both dealt with ozone and particulates—no coincidence.
Now she didn’t need to bother with Congress.
The goalpost had been moved
onto the next playing field.
Until a federal appeals court
struck the standards down in 1999 as an unconstitutional delegation of
congressional law-making authority.
Subverting local governments:
One of Browner’s first actions after installing her environmentalist
friends in EPA jobs was to set up the Office of Environmental Justice
The environmental justice
movement began in 1985 when Warren County, North Carolina, was
selected for a polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfill near poor,
mostly minority communities. The decision sparked widespread protests,
marches and more than 500 arrests, including District of Columbia
Delegate Walter Fauntroy (chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus).
They didn’t stop the landfill, but they put “environmental racism” on
the map and created the counterphrase “environmental justice.”
Two environmental justice
activists, Benjamin Chavis, Jr. (Commission for Racial Justice), and
Robert D. Bullard (Clark Atlanta University), served on the Clinton
transition team in the natural resources and environment cluster and
assisted in preparing a briefing book for newly designated EPA
Administrator Carol Browner.
Al Gore, of course, was the
touchstone. In a December 1993 speech at the African American Church
Summit in Washington D.C., he cited environmental discrimination as a
On February 11, 1994,
President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898 on Federal Actions to
Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income
Populations, ordering federal agencies to consider the health and
environmental effects of their decisions on minority and low-income
A White House report on EPA
The agency’s future lies in
promoting not only environmental safety, but environmental justice
as well. Administrator Browner is acting to resolve both issues with
major initiatives, and EPA’s senior management must follow through
on her proposals.
The mission creeps another
creep. The Office of Environmental Justice enforces various laws and
passes out taxpayer-funded grants for studying the effects of
pollutants on poorer, mostly black, communities.
Sounds wonderful. It has a
down side: federal agencies have a new tool for subverting state
Example: In January 1997,
Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality approved a $700
million polyvinyl chloride plant to be built by Japanese-owned
Shintech in the predominantly black southern Louisiana town of
Convent, on a chemical plant-lined stretch of the Mississippi river
dubbed “Cancer Alley” by environmental justice activists. Shintech
would create 195 good-paying jobs in an area with 60% unemployment and
On May 22, 1997, Tulane
Environmental Law Clinic filed a petition on behalf of 19 groups
opposing the Shintech project. The St. James Parish Chapter of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People supported
On September 10, 1997, Browner
said no go. Blacks would suffer disproportionately from potentially
cancer-causing emissions of the plant.
Louisiana Economic Development
Director Kevin Reilly said, “It is demeaning and despicable for these
people to play the race card.” He said that poor people and blacks had
little health risk and would have greatly improved quality of life
from good jobs and access to health care.
In the April 1998 Journal of
the Louisiana Medical Society, Vivien Chen and other researchers from
the Louisiana State University Medical Center reported that the
incidence of cancer in black women, white women and black men was
below the national average in the river parishes. The cancer incidence
for white men was equal to the national average, but no higher.
That’s the incidence rate. The
death rate of those who did get cancer, however, told a different
story: black men and women in those parishes had above average
mortality from cancer, as did white men. Only white women, who had a
below average incidence of cancer, also had a cancer mortality rate
below the national average.
Incidence rates may reflect
Death rates may reflect
poverty and no access to medical care.
Environmentalists only talked
about the mortality rates, not the incidence rates.
Maybe Cancer Alley isn’t
cancer alley after all. It’s Poverty Row.
After a bitter legal wrangle,
in September 1998 Shintech scrapped the project.
Score: Browner 1, State of
After this victory, an
Environmental Justice conference was arranged in Louisiana so the
National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal
advisory committee to the EPA, could visit “hot spots” in the region.
A local committee was
assembled to arrange the tour.
Included on this planning
committee were Carol Gaudin and Ernest Johnson, President of Louisiana
NAACP, two African Americans who supported Shintech’s project.
When Browner discovered they
were on the committee, the two received telephone calls from EPA
telling them they were no longer on the committee.
Rural cleansing, EPA style.
Now, what about Browner’s
husband, Michael Podhorzer?
He’s a lobbyist for Citizen
Action, according to newspaper accounts. Questions have arisen about
possible conflicts of interest with two lawyers married to each other,
one in government and another in a special interest group trying to
The Washington Post ran a 1994
feature on potential conflicts among married lawyers that mentioned
William McLucas, head of the
SEC’s enforcement division, is engaged to Kaye Williams, a former
SEC lawyer who last fall became assistant general counsel for the
Securities Industry Association, the trade group representing firms
regulated by the SEC. Williams says there’s no problem: “We are both
lawyers who have ethical obligations to keep client information
privileged.” Besides, she adds, she doesn’t deal with enforcement
That’s the same attitude
taken by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner
and her husband Michael Podhorzer, a lobbyist with the consumer
group Citizens [sic] Action. Although the organization is
involved in many environmental issues, Podhorzer says he handles
only health issues.
As if EPA didn’t handle health
But there’s more to this.
Website postings say Podhorzer
is actually with Citizens Fund (1996 income: $3,609,576; Assets:
$888,839), the 501(c)(3) arm of Citizen Action. Citizens Fund provides
research, training, organizing and networking support for the national
issues campaigns of Citizen Action.
The twin organizations not
only operate health campaigns, they’re big in the campaign reform
arena we examined in The Montana Initiative Wars.
Here’s what the Ottinger
Foundation Handbook says:
As a 501(c)(4) organization,
Citizen Action lobbies for campaign finance reform through its
Campaign for a Responsible Congress program. The Campaign organizes
reform supporters at the district level in targeted states, uses
Citizens Fund research to focus media attention on money in
politics, and airs paid television spots on the issue in targeted
One of the most ambitious
and far-reaching money-in-politics projects in the country, Citizen
Fund’s reform program works to build state-level coalitions for
publicly-financed campaigns. Citizens Fund publishes reports on the
connections between campaign contributions and public policy, and
organizes in support of public financing of political campaigns in
eleven targeted states.
Citizens Fund research shows
how campaign contributions buy special favor from legislators,
enabling wealthy, corporate donors to profit at taxpayers’ expense.
For example, a study released by Citizens Fund in January detailed
the potpourri of special favors which the proposed balanced budget
amendment offered 1994 Republican campaign contributors.
So Citizens Fund does a lot of
things besides health issues. What Citizens Fund doesn’t do is tell
you where it gets its money. As you may guess, it’s mostly from the
usual prescriptive suspects: W. Alton Jones Foundation, John Merck
Fund, Beldon Fund, Joyce Foundation, Surdna Foundation, Turner
Foundation, Schumann Foundation, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Ruth Mott
Fund, Ford Foundation, and others.218c
A key example: While Browner
headed EPA, her husband’s group got money from W. Alton Jones
Foundation “To inform public about health and environmental threats
posed by pesticides and to promote protection and policy reform,”
$60,000 in 1995; “To build public support for implementing least toxic
methods of pest control in and around school building and public
spaces,” $25,000 in 1996.
Who regulates pesticides? EPA.
Who’s sleeping with the Administrator? Michael Podhorzer, Citizens
Fund, who handles only health issues.
Let’s follow this another
step: W. Alton Jones Foundation tells us its grants are by invitation
only. They thus initiated the Citizens Fund pesticide-related grants.
The board members knew that their director, John Peterson Myers, was
working on his pesticide-related book, Our Stolen Future.
Funding the EPA Administrator’s husbands’ group certainly wouldn’t
hurt their chances of having her mentor Al Gore write the book’s
introduction. Especially not after giving grants to help Gore’s buddy
and 1988 presidential campaign press secretary, Arlie Schardt, do the
book’s publicity through his Environmental Media Services, a project
of the Tides Center, which won the contract to locate its headquarters
in a national park run by a special trust including Interior Secretary
Bruce Babbitt. The book did reinforce Al Gore’s views against man-made
And Gore’s 1988 presidential
campaign field director, Debra Callahan, was given a nice job with W.
Alton Jones Foundation as grassroots director. She went on to a nicer
job filling a spot Bruce Babbitt once occupied as president of the
League of Conservation Voters before he was tapped for Interior
Secretary. President Clinton spoke at the League’s 1998 annual dinner,
introduced by Deb Callahan. “Extraordinarily incestuous.”