Why She Matters
Browner is another Clinton administration veteran who will serve in a key post in President Barack Obama's White House. She will serve in the newly created role of energy czar. In that job, she will work as a kind of environmental traffic cop, coordinating the administration’s climate change, energy and environmental policy.
Browner is a former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator and filled that role for the whole of the Clinton administration, making her the longest-serving EPA administrator in history. She used the post as a bulwark against what Democrats viewed as an assault on environmental regulations by Congressional Republicans.
Browner served as an adviser to Obama's transition team, and led that team’s Energy and Environment Policy Working Group. As the working group head, Browner was charged with drafting the early policies and priorities for the Obama administration. Obama's policies will likely depart radically from those of the Bush administration, which she described as the "worst environmental administration ever."(1)
Path to Power
A Florida native, Browner was born in 1955 to parents who were professors at Miami-Dade Community College. She graduated from the University of Florida in 1977 and earned her J.D. from the school in 1979.
In 1980, she served as the general counsel for the Florida House of Representatives Government Operations Committee before going to work for the grassroots consumer advocacy group Citizen Action in Washington, D.C.
From 1986 to 1988, Browner was the chief legislative aide on environmental issues to then-Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), who later served as Florida's governor. Following that, she was the legislative director for then-Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.) until 1991, when she was appointed as the Florida secretary of the environment. She served in that capacity from 1991 to 1993, where among her biggest wins was securing a deal with Walt Disney World in which the corporation was given permission to develop more than 400 acres of wetlands, in exchange for buying and preserving an area of land nearly twenty times that size for the bald eagle and other wildlife.
At the age of 37, President Bill Clinton appointed Browner as EPA administrator, a job in which she served from 1993 to 2001.
"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," she said at her swearing-in ceremony as EPA Administrator in January 1993. "I believe that we will now be able to make the investment in our economy that we so desperately need, yet preserve the air, land, and water."(2)
After her stint at the EPA, Browner founded and continues to serve as a principal of The Albright Group LLC, a global strategy firm led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She's also a principal of Albright Capital Management, an investment advisory firm that concentrates on emerging markets.
She is \active in non-profit, progressive and environmental groups, serving as the chair of the board of the National Audubon Society and a member of the board of directors of the Center for American Progress, the Alliance for Climate Protection and the League of Conservation Voters. She is also on the board of APX, a company that provides technology infrastructure for environmental and energy markets.
As EPA administrator, Browner made her mark by beating back attempts by Congressional Republicans to weaken the Clean Water Act and virtually every other environmental law on the books. With a divided government in the mid-1990s (a Democratic president and a GOP-led Congress), Republicans sought to exert power by picking apart federal rules through legislation – including repealing portions of the Clean Air Act, making moves to increase logging on public lands and scaling back rules on pesticides in foods.
Browner also made some notable progress in her eight years at the agency in the public health realm. Two of the most influential acts during her time at the agency were updating federal standards for particulate matter and ozone (perhaps better-known as "soot" and "smog"). In 1994, she oversaw the expansion of the Toxic Release Inventory, nearly doubling the number of chemicals whose emission must be reported to the public.
She also played a key role in enacting rules to strengthen the Safe Drinking Water Act, which overhauled in 1996 public water system standards,(3) and in 1997 the Food Quality Protection Act.(4) In both cases, she worked to pass legislation with Congressional Republicans.
In 1999, Browner led the charge to ban two pesticides that studies found to disrupt brain development in children. But Environmentalists criticized her for not going far enough in outlawing some of the most dangerous chemicals and accused her of bowing to industry pressure.(5)
In 1997, Browner created an Office of Children's Health Protection at EPA in order to help implement Clinton's executive order on Children's Environmental Health. The goal of the office was "to make the protection of children's health a fundamental goal of public health and environmental protection in the United States."(6) The new office incorporated a Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee, a panel of experts in the field that makes policy recommendations to the administration. The office in its first years focused on issues like asthma rates and exposure to toxic chemicals like lead-based paint.
Browner led efforts to clean up brownfields, or land that has been contaminated with harmful chemicals. She also tried to rally support for legislative measures to reform the Superfund program, which makes polluting industries pay for clean-up work at toxic waste sites.(6) Though the Clinton administration wasn't able to get those measures through Congress, Browner did help accelerate the pace of Superfund cleanups, completing 400 in the administration's first term.
One of Browner's last acts as EPA administrator was to issue new air pollution control rules for diesel fuels, requiring that the sulfur content of diesel fuel be reduced from 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million – a 97 percent decline. The Clinton administration enacted the law in 2000, though it wasn't fully phased in until 2006. The new rule also called for stronger emissions limits on diesel engines.
Her 1999 official biography notes that Browner "is guided by the philosophy that safeguarding the environment means protecting where we live and how we live" but also by the idea that "the environment and the economy go hand in hand."(7)
Browner was an early supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-N.Y.) bid for the Democratic nomination, but she went on to enthusiastically back Obama once Clinton left the race. During the general election, Browner appeared at several events in swing states organized by the League of Conservation Voters to rally support for his candidacy.
Browner also served as a top legislative aide to former Vice President Al Gore and worked with former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at The Albright Group, a consulting firm, and Albright Capital Management, which focuses on investment in emerging markets.
She is married to former Rep. Tom Downey Jr. (D-N.Y.).
Wald, Matthew L., "Carol M. Browner," New York Times, Nov. 26, 2008
"Carol M. Browner's Official Biography," EPA Web site
"EPA press release, Statement by Carol Browner on Safe Drinking Water Act," Aug. 2, 1996
"EPA press release, EPA Announces Comprehensive Plans for Protecting Food Safety, Regulating Pesticides under the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act," March 18, 2007
"Protecting the Apples of Our Eye," Daily Grist
EPA Web site
"Carol M. Browner's Official Biography," EPA Web site