No Tree-Hugger, She

It is no particular surprise that Anne McGill Burford has blamed everyone but herself for her troubles as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency. She did it again the other day in Washington, speaking to a Senior Executive Assn. seminar on ethics in government.

She blamed the eastern press corps for demanding a “tree-hugger” to run the agency and complained that “I got suckered into” a legal battle with Congress by the Justice Department over the withholding of EPA documents from a House investigating committee.

It is history now, but often it is helpful to reflect on the lessons of history. Burford’s version, in part: “The eastern press corps demands that you be emotive about the environment. That’s not what EPA needed. It needed a hell of a good manager and I think I was that.”

Others remember it differently: that the agency was managed in a way that favored the polluters and was manipulated for political purposes. Even that sort of thing was not managed well with the result that the White House staff left Burford hanging on a limb until she finally resigned.


In his book “Season of Spoils,” Jonathan Lash of the Natural Resources Defense Council summarized the brief Burford era this way: “It was a sad and tawdry spectacle that damaged the EPA and its people and had serious consequences for the American environment.”

Actually, no one demands that the EPA be run by a tree-hugger. All anyone asks is someone willing to make an honest effort to administer the law to do what Congress intended it to do and to pay enough attention to the trees to notice it if air pollution starts making their leaves curl up.