EPA Soon Could Have Cabinet Status

Legislation proposed by House Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., would add the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., to the U.S. Cabinet, rename it the Department of Environmental Protection and make Christine Todd Whitman its secretary.

The legislation, H.R. 2438, is co-sponsored by Reps. Robert A. Borski, D-Pa., and Mark Steven Kirk, R-Ill. President George Bush also has voiced his support, stating that the issue should be a matter of law. According to a Reuters report, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the change “will enhance [Whitman's] stature. It will underscore the importance of what she's about and will give her equal status with the Cabinet officers she has to deal with every day.”

The status change has been pushed for more than a dozen years, according to a Boehlert staffer, but has consistently been rejected because it was attached to other unpopular provisions.

For example, in 1994, the House voted not to consider the bill unless members could put provisions on it limiting the agency's authority. The bill consequently failed.

Current legislation will not bring any other significant changes and will not enhance either Whitman's or the EPA's power. It will, however, make the United States the last industrialized nation to have a minister or Cabinet member serve at this level on environmental issues, Boehlert's office told Reuters.

“I think it's a very good idea,” says John Skinner, executive director and CEO for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md. “Whitman already is allowed to sit in on Cabinet meetings and is unofficially part of the Cabinet, so she should at least be recognized for it.”

Administrator Whitman would not have to be re-nominated or re-confirmed by the Senate. H.R. 2438 currently is in the House Committee on Government Reform awaiting further action.