Twenty Minutes With Carol Browner

The drab white linoleum hallways of the US. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters hardly prepare you for the penthouse suite of offices that is administrator Carol Browner’s world. The walls have imitation Audubon bird prints, the picture windows overlook the grassy banks along the Potomac River, and a small crew of secretaries sound like air traffic controllers trying to land appointments far down Browner’s schedule. As I’m ushered into her office, which seems like a living room with its white couch and elegant wooden bookcases, a photographer adjusts his white light umbrella and Browner greets me warmly. She began the day at a White House ceremony, where President Clinton unveiled his Northwest Forest Plan, and after our visit she must huddle with her aides about a crisis over the North American Free Trade Agreement. But for 20 minutes, her time is ours. She looks radiant in a short dusky blue dress and big golden earrings that shine under her short brunette haircut. Unlike press photos in which she seems tight-lipped and stiff-shouldered, she’s very animated in person—smiling, waving her hands, checking the tape recorder, tackling questions before i finish asking them.