House panel weighs competing visions of EPA Cabinet bill

Environmentalists urged a House subcommittee Friday to avoid packing bureaucratic and regulatory reform in legislation that would elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to a Cabinet-level department, while backers of extensive EPA reforms made their case for an agency overhaul.

Conservation activists warned the Government Reform Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee that retooling the agency could have significant environmental consequences.

Rena Steinzor of the Center for Progressive Regulation, a nonprofit research organization, said EPA restructuring could disrupt agency work for at least two years and exacerbate problems with EPA enforcement and regulatory development programs.

But George Gray, acting director of Harvard's Center for Risk Analysis, encouraged Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Doug Ose, R-Calif., to take "every opportunity to address many of the pathologies at EPA."

The proposed elevation of EPA to the Cabinet has been a perennial issue on Capitol Hill since former President Bush's administration. But Congress has not been able to pass an EPA bill, largely because of the disputes over proposed efforts to restructure the agency.

Democrats and many Republicans strongly oppose such efforts, while industry and conservative GOP lawmakers argue it is the best opportunity to address the agency's institutional problems.

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