EPA chief defends agency as panel debates Cabinet status

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman defended her agency's actions under the Bush administration Tuesday against questions about her efficiency as a potential Cabinet secretary during a House panel hearing on elevating the EPA to Cabinet status.

"The elevation of the EPA is to be a reflection of what emphasis the U.S. places on the environment," Whitman said in response to questions from lawmakers on the House Government Reform Committee. "This is not a reward or punishment for particular administrations."

Many of the committee members acknowledged benefits to elevating the EPA to a Cabinet-level agency, but lawmakers objected to Whitman's performance thus far and expressed reservations about promoting her to a Cabinet secretary.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said while he has always supported promoting the EPA to a Cabinet level, he does not under this administration. Waxman said Whitman has failed to provide Congress with timely information on a number of occasions.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, questioned the administration's loyalties to regulations set by the EPA in the past, asking, "Why does the EPA deserve a Cabinet position when it is not realizing the authority it has today?"

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, testified that the Bush administration supports legislation "make official what is already a reality."

Two bills have been offered, one by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., and another by Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., which also offers a multitude of reforms. Tuesday's session was the third hearing the committee has held on elevating the EPA to Cabinet status.

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