Cabinet Status for Environment

TRANSFORMING the United States Environmental Protection Agency into a Cabinet department is an idea that seems close to becoming a reality. In the past two years, supporters of EPA Cabinet status have won passage in their respective chambers of bills establishing the enhanced agency, but House and Senate sponsors were unable to resolve some differences.

President Clinton is said to be ready to bestow Cabinet rank on EPA administrator Carol Browner, in anticipation of Congressional action establishing the new department. Some observers see the executive branch getting a bit top-heavy; Ms. Brown would be the 15th head of a Cabinet department. It has been suggested that the law of diminishing returns might result in the lessening of public response to such a large layer of bureaucracy.

Assuming that a new, bigger, and more powerful Department of the Environment is established, what might Americans - from homemakers to heads of corporations - expect to see in the way of beneficial results? Doubtless, the beefed-up agency would be allotted additional funds to carry out expanded responsibilities, such as Clinton's plan for developing renewable resources. Though part of the cost for such a venture will come from the private sector (willingly or not), some of that money is likely to come fr om other agencies, which might surrender funds and personnel, to the Department of the Environment.

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Clinton has revealed to us his penchant for bringing together people from many interest groups and sectors to probe for problems and solutions. His Little Rock extravaganza was the prototype; his projected "Timber Summit" in the Northwest to hash out ways to reconcile wildlife protection, timber operations, and recreation emphasizes the president's eagerness to reap ideas and momentum from many sectors of the nation and many interest groups. He will soon sign the biodiversity treaty snubbed by President Bush at the "Earth Summit" in Brazil last summer.

This will commit the US to environmental cooperation with the rest of the world, and the president wants a Department of the Environment to help fulfill that commitment.

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