20 Years Ago: 5-4-93 — Senate votes 79-15 to elevate EPA to cabinet level on condition of mandatory comparative risk analysis

The Senate voted overwhelmingly to make EPA a cabinet-level department on the proviso that the agency conduct comparative risk analysis (i.e., likening environmental risks to commonly encountered risks). This proviso would be the bill’s death in the Democrat-controlled House.

The news report is below.

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Senate Votes to Give Fight for the Environment Cabinet Status

May 4, 1993, Associated Press

The Senate acted to raise the status of the fight for the environment today, voting 79-15 to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to Cabinet level and give it a new name.

The Department of Environmental Protection that would be established under the bill would be the 15th Cabinet-level agency within the federal government.

The measure, supported by the Clinton administration, would disband the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a low-profile panel that already has been supplaned by a more activist office within the White House.

The bill now goes to the House, where creation of a department to protect the nation’s air and water faces a less-certain future.

The administration has been working on House members to keep the bill free of too many amendments and side provisions, which got in the way of its passage by the last Congress.

The White House also must overcome House concerns about doing away with CEQ, which Congress created 23 years ago as part of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Senate rejected an amendment to shift responsibility for regulating agricultural practices on wetlands from the Army Corps of Engineers to the Agriculture Department. Instead the lawmakers voted to require the president to recommend to Congress within 90 days whether that course is advisable.

Two House Government Operations subcommittees plan to hold a hearing Thursday on CEQ’s management and contracting operations. Congressional studies and internal audits have found repeated examples of millions of dollars in waste and irregularity in the agency’s dealings with its many contractors.

The full Government Operations Committee, chaired by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., is drafting its own Cabinet bill that is likely to include language requiring extensive management reforms in the new department.

Supporters of elevating the EPA say that as part of the Cabinet, the agency would increase its role in presidential policy decisions and improve coordination of environmental policy with other federal agencies.

The United States is the only industrialized country that does not have a Cabinet-level environment department. With worldwide environmental cooperation increasing, U.S. officials would have increased stature in dealing with ministers of other countries.

President Clinton supports the bill, as did the Bush administration. A similar bill passed the Senate last year.

Chief Senate sponsor John Glenn, D-Ohio, altered his original bill to include Clinton’s proposal to abolish the CEQ.

Clinton has established his own White House Office on Environmental Policy, headed by a former aide to Vice President Al Gore, and would give most of CEQ’s functions to the new Cabinet department.

Last week, the Senate adopted an amendment, also being pushed in the House, to create an office of environmental justice in the new department to address concerns that minority communities are disproportionately affected by polluting industries.

Glenn’s bill also would establish a bureau of environmental statistics within the department. It would provide scientific information for the government and address General Accounting Office findings that EPA has not adequately compiled environmental information.

Another provision would create a commission to examine and improve environmental programs.

The Senate also endorsed an amendment by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to create an assistant secretary to oversee Indian lands in the new department; and a provision by Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La., requiring the department to compare the health and environmental risks of its regulations with other risks facing the public.

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