Global warming and the need to update aging environmental laws are two issues of "paramount importance" confronting the future of environmental protection, according to EPA Administrator Carol Browner.
Appointed in the early days of the Clinton Administration over seven years ago, Browner is the longest-serving head of EPA in its 30-year history.
She spoke at the National Press Club Tuesday about her experience at EPA and her vision of the future.
Browner has sometimes infuriated Republicans in Congress and industry groups for her tough stance on environmental regulation, and she showed no sign of shrinking from partisan wrangling in her press club speech.
She defended her tough new regulations based on the Clean Air Act.
"We recommended the most sweeping change in a generation," Browner boasted, adding that the changes were backed up with sound science and extensive public hearings.
Browner attacked the legal challenge to the new rules, a case set to be heard by the Supreme Court in November.
The EPA administrator made it quite clear who she hopes will become President after next month''s election.
"Al Gore has been at the forefront of every major environmental debate in this country throughout his career," said Browner. "As for Gov. Bush, the state of Texas speaks for itself."
Browner has long-standing ties to the Vice President, having served as his legislative assistant when he was in the Senate in the 1980s.
It is not clear to what extent Browner''s speech represents the thinking of the Presidential candidate Gore, but the current head of EPA was not shy about pointing out where the agency needs to go in the future.
"Some of our most important laws have not been revisited for more than a decade," she said. "Times have changed."
The second major problem facing the nation, global warming, Browner described as "not some distant change -- it is a reality."
Both these issues require strong political leadership, something that she argued is notably absent in the current Republican-led Congress.
During the question and answer period following her speech, Browner hesitated for only a moment when asked by a reporter what was the biggest disappointment in her years leading EPA.
"It was the Congressional attack on environmental protection when the Republicans took control of Congress," Browner replied.
However, Browner maintained the agency emerged stronger from the trial, as it provided an opportunity for EPA to "re-engage the public that we serve."
The Republican takeover of Congress has had another lamentable consequence, according to Browner. Industry groups have become "disengaged" with EPA, choosing to take their concerns to Congress instead.
On the other hand, Browner pointed to a recent business development she said was extremely significant.
"In virtually every sector we now see industry leaders going beyond mere compliance with EPA regulation," said Browner.
Mentioning BP Amoco and Ford Motor Co. by name, Browner concluded her public remarks on an upbeat note.
"This is a great story for the country because at the end of the day, environmental protection should not be about doing the bare minimum. It should be about leading."
by James Nash