Mr. Chairman, Senator Jeffords, members of the Committee: Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to appear before you today. It is a great honor and privilege to be here today as the President’s nominee to be General Counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency. On a personal note, as a former Chief Counsel to this Committee, it is also a pleasure to be back sitting at counsel’s table.
The Office of the General Counsel plays an important role in ensuring that our environmental policies and programs are fully and fairly implemented, supported by law, and advance the goals of protecting public health and the environment. That is a significant responsibility and one that I take seriously. I know from my experience as an environmental lawyer that the environmental issues we face today – from reducing air emissions of hazardous pollutants to controlling nonpoint source pollution to protection of our natural resources – are increasingly complex and contentious. Solving those issues will require that we work together with open minds to seek creative solutions, encourage partnerships, and emphasize results. If I am confirmed, I pledge to you that I will do everything in my power to work with the dedicated and expert staff in the Office of the General Counsel to provide Administrator Leavitt and the program offices with sound, unbiased legal analysis to achieve the Agency’s mission of protecting human health and safeguarding the environment. And I pledge to work with you and your staff in carrying out our shared goal of environmental protection.
I have had the privilege over the past 18 years to practice environmental law from several different perspectives: as an associate and then a partner in private practice, as a Hill staffer, and most recently, as a senior executive at the Department of the Interior. I learned firsthand that litigation is only one tool and, usually not the best one, to solve problems; that bringing parties together to talk through issues often leads to innovative solutions; and that when Congress and the Administration work together, they can accomplish tremendous things.
I started my career as a litigator. My most significant case, and certainly one of the highlights of my career, involved a groundwater contamination problem in South Florida. Our client was the City of Delray Beach, which was forced to shut down a number of its drinking water wells after detecting high levels of various industrial solvents. After two years of developing the technical case and a four week jury trial, we were able to identify the source of the contamination – a company that had been dumping used solvents on its property for years – and obtain a $8.7 million verdict under State law on behalf of the City for cleanup costs and future operation and maintenance of the treatment structures. The City won the lawsuit, but in reality, the litigation did little to achieve real results. To my knowledge, the City of Delray Beach still has not collected on the judgment.
My experience on the Hill underscored for me the importance of collaboration and outreach to those with potentially differing viewpoints. During my first week as a Senate staffer, this Committee reported out the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments. One year later, the Senate passed the bill (S. 1316) by a vote of 99 to 0, and it was signed into law a year later by President Clinton. That legislation was developed with strong bipartisan support and with the active support and engagement of the Administration. It improved public health, reduced unnecessary costs, encouraged voluntary measures to prevent contamination of water supplies, and incorporated risk assessment principles. To my mind, the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 demonstrates that dialogue, partnerships, and innovative thinking are the path to better environmental protection. The Safe Drinking Water Act served as a model for me on virtually every legislative project that I worked on while serving as Chief Counsel of the Environment and Public Works Committee and to this day. If I am confirmed, I would hope to continue a collaborative relationship with the Committee and its staff as we work through the challenging legal issues we face today.
For the past three years, I have served at the Department of the Interior as Counselor and Special Assistant to Secretary Gale Norton. I have observed daily how collaboration and partnerships can achieve significant results on the ground. I have worked with landowners who want to take proactive measures to protect wildlife and their habitat; I have coordinated Departmental efforts to enhance habitat and preserve species, while providing water to farmers and cities; and I have led negotiations with States and Tribes to enhance and restore public and private lands. As Counselor to the Secretary, I led the Department’s efforts to restore the Florida Everglades and am particularly proud of what we were able to accomplish in just the past three years by working with our partners in the State and local governments, environmental organizations, and private sector. As this Committee knows, Everglades restoration is truly a complex venture, raising difficult legal and practical questions relating to land management, environmental protection, flood control, and growth management. The parties are working through these issues together, though. The result is that we now have a legal framework in which to implement individual restoration projects; we have acquired and preserved thousands of acres of Everglades habitat; and have begun construction on the first Everglades restoration project.
I use these three examples from my past environmental practice – Delray Beach, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and Everglades restoration – because I think that they best illustrate how I approach environmental issues. I believe strongly in the framework of our environmental laws and regulations and in the enforcement of those laws and regulations. Litigation, whether in defense of a regulatory program or in the context of an enforcement action, remains an important tool for ensuring environmental protection. At the same time, however, I believe that we should always look for opportunities to go beyond just what the law requires. My experience has always been that communities, businesses, and individuals, when given the chance and some encouragement, will step up to the plate and come up with a better way of protecting and enhancing our environment. My job as a lawyer is to help make that happen.
Throughout my career, I have strived to think independently, respect the rule of law, act in accordance with the highest ethical standards, and use sound judgment and common sense. I try to listen to all sides of an argument, respecting the views of those with different perspectives, before making a judgment. My goal is to lead by example and learn from others. I hope to have that opportunity in EPA’s Office of General Counsel.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.