When President-elect Bill Clinton named Carol Browner (born 1955) as his choice to head up the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmentalists were pleased. Members of the business community, on the other hand, were somewhat skeptical because they feared increased regulations.
It is no secret that the EPA and the business community have been long-standing adversaries. During her confirmation hearings, however, Browner promised the business community that the regulatory climate would not be hostile toward them. Her experience in Florida had proven that the regulatory burdens on business could be eased without compromising the environment. Browner has been credited by both environmentalists as well as the Florida business community for being fair, knowledgeable, intelligent, and balanced in her approach to the environment and economics.
During her tenure as secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulations, Browner drew both criticism and accolades from environmentalists, agriculturalists, and the business community. Browner's role as a strong negotiator and as an environmental visionary won her much respect in two specific cases in which she was involved while she served as Florida's secretary of Environmental Regulations. Browner was the chief negotiator for the state of Florida in a suit filed by the Federal Government to restore the Everglades by purifying and restoring the natural water flow to Everglades National Park. This was considered the largest ecological restoration effort ever undertaken in the United States and was projected to cost the state of Florida, the federal government, and sugar cane farmers about $1 billion. While the outcome pleased environmentalists, it infuriated the sugar farmers who would bear the burden of much of the cost. Andy Rackley, vice-president and general manager of the Florida Sugar Cane League, said of Browner in a New York Times article, "Having been on the opposite side of the table from her on the Everglades issue, I can tell you she is a formidable opponent."
Disney Does Wetlands
Browner is also credited with negotiating a successful landmark agreement with the Walt Disney Company that allowed them to develop 400 acres of wetlands on their property in Disney World in exchange for their investment of $40 million to purchase and protect more than 8500 acres of wetlands in central Florida. "[Browner] is a tremendous environmental leader," said Todd W. Mansfield, senior vice-president of Walt Disney Development Company. "She had a vision of protecting an entire ecosystem. She is a very, very long-term thinker." Browner's approach not only responded to the needs of the business community for ongoing development but insured and protected the balance of an ecological system—the wetlands—that would provide a refuge for wildlife spanning thousands of acres in central Florida for decades to come.
Browner is the oldest of three daughters born to Michael Browner and Isabella Harty-Hugues, both academicians whose respect for education undoubtedly had a strong influence on their three daughters. The Browners limited their daughters' television viewing time and encouraged them, instead, to read and pursue their interests.
Browner was born and raised in Florida and her love of the state's natural beauty certainly played into her strong environmentalist attitudes. Growing up in the 1950s and '60s, Browner spent many hours hiking around the Everglades searching out the many species that inhabited the area. It is even said that she once missed school so that she could stay home and finish a watercolor painting of a rare water fowl that landed in a pond near her home.
Browner received both her undergraduate degree in English and her law degree from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Her sister, Michelle, the middle Browner daughter, is a biochemist at the University of California at San Francisco. The third and youngest of the Browner sisters, Stephanie, is completing her doctoral studies at the University of Indiana in American literature. Carol Browner's family feels that her position with the EPA not only allows her to continue to marvel at the natural world she loves but to have a profound and lasting impact on its future.
Focus on Prevention
Browner is being called one of a new breed of environmentalists because she believes that there can and should be a balance between environmental protection and economic development. She feels that the EPA, in the past, has not brought issues to conclusion quickly enough for businesses to act upon them. "I've found business leaders don't oppose strong environmental programs," said Browner during her confirmation hearings, as stated in the New York Times. "What drives them crazy is a lack of certainty." She vowed that the current administration will not hold up federal regulations considered anti-business as the previous administration had done. Her goal is to make the regulatory process more business-friendly. Browner's focus is on preventing pollution rather than on cleanup. Instead of an authoritarian and repressive regulatory environment, Browner looks for economic incentives in pollution prevention. She also works toward greater coordination with the other regulatory agencies within the federal government— energy, interior, transportation, agriculture—to develop a more unified environmental position. Browner also encourages giving individual states the freedom to develop their own environmental protection plans while keeping them under the auspices of the EPA. Browner made her point as stated by Max Gates in Automotive News when she said, "No one can tell me that Hawaii and Maine should have the same rules in all cases."
Browner had a formidable task facing her as the new EPA chief, but she also had the support of the Clinton administration. During the presidential campaign, Clinton, along with vice-presidential candidate Al Gore—a noted environmentalist and author of best seller Earth in the Balance—promised to make the environment a priority during their administration.
Browner introduced the Common Sense Initiative in 1994. The initiative updates the old method of regulating the environment—dealing with air, water, and land pollution separately—to an industry-by industry approach. Browner, President Clinton, and Vice President Gore announced a package of 25 reforms to streamline environmental regulation in March 1995.
An issue of paramount importance waiting for Browner when she stepped into her new position as EPA chief was that of toxic-waste disposal. Unlike the previous administrations' stances that incineration was the best way to handle the disposal of toxic waste, the new administration announced an 18-month moratorium on the licensing of new incinerators in order to give itself time to study the overall impact of incinerators on the environment. Further, this time enabled the EPA to tighten regulations on 171 unlicensed boilers and industrial furnaces that dispose of nearly five million tons of hazardous waste each year. Browner expanded the Toxic Release Inventory, which ensures the public's awareness of toxic emissions. She also issued the Chemical Manufacturing Rule, which aims to cut smog-producing chemicals by 1 million tons per year.
As Florida's secretary of Environmental Regulations, Browner had a solid foundation from which to approach her new post as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency. While in Florida, Browner managed the country's third-largest state environmental agency with a budget of $650 million and a staff of 1,500 employees. She is credited with revitalizing the department's demoralized workforce and making the agency one of the most active in the state. To date, Browner is the youngest administrator ever to serve with the EPA and only the second woman to hold the top post. As head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Browner oversees 17,000 individuals and is responsible for a budget of $7 billion. It has been said that she listens well, is a strong negotiator, and will compromise when necessary. Similar qualities have been attributed to her boss, Bill Clinton. And like President Clinton, she has opponents and critics on all sides.
Browner is a very organized individual both in her professional career and in her personal life, but she also has a lighter side to her personality, according to her father Michael Browner—a side that the public may never see. He laughingly recalls a time when he and other members of the family were invited to a party at Carol's new house shortly after she and Michael Podhorzer were married. Upon their arrival, and much to their surprise, they were all handed paint brushes. They painted all day and all night according to Mr. Browner.
Carol Browner bikes, skis, and jogs. The jogging is done mostly on a treadmill now because Browner usually arrives home after dark. The family is very active. Five days after her son Zachary was born, the family, including baby, went cross-country skiing. Browner says it was just a short trip and she doesn't want people to get the idea that she's superhuman, but she loves spending time with her family. Family is important to Browner and her husband Michael. Spending time with them continues to be a priority with Browner, even though it requires careful planning, since her position as EPA chief exacts more of her time and energy.
Browner is also very proud of the fact that she and husband Podhorzer, whom she met while both were working for the nonprofit advocacy Citizen Action group and whom she married in 1987, have never employed a housekeeper or a nanny for Zachary. They both share housekeeping chores and they both take equal responsibility for their child. Browner does not want to be branded as "eco-obsessed," but she admits she would consider the availability of curb-side recycling when purchasing a home. She also tries to buy in bulk to lessen packaging waste. Browner believes small things would make a big difference if everyone did them. She also feels that it is crucial to teach our young people how to be good stewards of the land, air and water. When she and Zachary walk to the store she lets him know that it is to save energy. When she gardens, she teaches her young son how to grow things and to respect the environment. When asked by a reporter for USA Weekend Magazine what his mom did for a living, Zachary simply said, "she saves things." What Browner wants for her son is not so different from what most parents want for their children. "I want my son to be able to grow up and enjoy the natural wonders of the United States in the same way that I have," stated Browner in the New York Times. With everything going on around her, Browner has not lost her idealism. She still wants to leave the world a better place for all of our children.
Further Reading on Carol M. Browner
Amicus Journal, spring 1993.
Automotive News, December 14, 1992; February 22, 1993.
Chemical & Engineering News, December 21, 1992; March 1, 1993; May 24, 1993.
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, January 16, 1993.
Economist, January 9, 1993.
Fortune, March 22, 1993.
Good Housekeeping, March 1993.
Insight, February 8, 1993.
National Journal, February 13, 1993.
National Parks, March 1993.
Nation's Business, June 1993.
Nation's Cities Weekly, January 18, 1993.
New York Times, December 12, 1992; December 17, 1992; February 2, 1993; February 7, 1993; February 8, 1993; February 9, 1993; February 12, 1993; May 22, 1993.
Science, March 12, 1993.
Time, December 21, 1992; February 15, 1993.
USA Weekend, May 21-23, 1993.
Wall Street Journal, December 11, 1992; January 8, 1993; January 25, 1993; February 8, 1993; February 10, 1993; March 23, 1993; April 5, 1993.