WASHINGTON ? With environmental issues growing in importance and prominence in the United States, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (D-CT) today expressed strong support for enhancing the status of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by elevating it to a cabinet-level department.
“Conferring cabinet status on the EPA is consistent with the values of the American people,” Lieberman said. “Appreciation for preserving the environment cuts across demographic and political lines. The time is ripe for our nation to accord as much priority to the health of our environment as we do to the state of the our armed forces and the quality of our educational system.”
Lieberman?s remarks were made during a Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on S. 159, a bill to establish a “Department of Environmental Protection Affairs” sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME).
Lieberman pointed out that by conferring increased stature on the EPA, the Boxer-Collins bill would put the agency on more equal footing with other agencies in its efforts to protect the environment, such as in dealing with the Energy Department in responding to energy issues or negotiating with the Defense Department over toxic waste sites on military bases. “Cabinet status can help level the playing fields between EPA and these powerful agencies,” he said.
Lieberman also indicated that the legislation could potentially improve the nation?s ability to work with the international community on global climate change and other transnational environmental issues.
“Of 198 nations, only ten, including the United States, do not maintain a cabinet department or ministry devoted to the environment ? that puts us into the company of states like Libya and Myanmar and diminishes our ability to exercise international environmental leadership.” Former Administrator Carol Browner supported this observation in the hearing, noting that “status does matter” in dealing with foreign countries.
Lieberman indicated that the challenge to achieve EPA cabinet status in this Congress was to “stay between the legislative lines” and keep the Boxer-Collins bill as “clean” as possible from extraneous provisions in order to avoid the kind of pitfalls that doomed previous attempts to make EPA a department.
Witnesses appearing before the committee included Senator Boxer; Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), the author of a similar House measure; EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman; former Administrators Carole Browner and William Reilly; and former EPA General Counsel Donald Elliot.