When Ronald Reagan unloaded Anne Burford in March 1983 from the Environmental Protection Agency, he told her: You "can walk out of EPA with your head held high." Today, with a new book serving as a neck brace, Burford's head, while not high, is at least no longer spinning. She has had 2 1/2 years to reflect on her 22 months as head of an agency that, during her term and since, has been polluted by low morale, indecision and laxity.
Burford has written "Are You Tough Enough?" It is meant to be "an insider's view of Washington power politics." The largest insider secret that Burford bullhorns into our ears is one that outsiders have known all along: Reagan came to office with goofy ideas about the environment -- trees cause pollution, trust industry to clean up -- and a disdain for enforcement of the laws.
Burford now gets it. She sees the sham. Reagan "has never made an environmental address." In 22 months, Burford had less than two hours with him and most of that on executive-privilege issues. Burford, Wyoming-born and a Colorado lawyer and state legislator before coming to Washington, says she took the EPA job "because I wanted to bring a politically conservative approach to solving the management problems of environmental protection." She believed that "Reagan shared that philosophy. Having to face the fact that he does not is probably the hardest thing I have had to do, and I am still uncomfortable with it. Ronald Reagan has always been a personal and political hero of mine, and concluding that he doesn't care about the environment hurts."
Instead of being philosophical, the disillusioned Burford becomes an embittered knifer: "Ronald Reagan is touted as being the greatest team player, the greatest loyalist of his own administration. If that is the case, we are all in deep trouble . . . When congressional criticism about the EPA began to touch the presidency, Mr. Reagan solved his problem by jettisoning me and my people, people whose only 'crime' was loyal service, following orders. I was not the first to receive his special brand of benevolent neglect, a form of conveniently looking the other way, while his staff continues to do some very dirty work." All that was before Donald Regan came to the White House.
Burford says of this and other awakenings, rude and ultrarude: "I have received an expensive midlife education." She whines about press mistreatment, the machinating David Stockman, the agendas of environ- mentalists and the cat-eat-bird politics of Washington. What did she expect? Burford came to town as a political person. She should not have been surprised, much less soured, by the game once she chose to be a player. She misses the whole point of what political Washington is about: that the resolving of problems often creates new problems and that compromising the conflicts is often graceless. The difference between the politics of Washington and Colorado is that here the stakes were so big that Burford wasn't up to the enormity.
The one person she remains buttery about -- James Watt -- turns out to have offered the dumbest advice: succeed in Washington through duplicity. Watt told Burford how to beat Congress, where "they don't care about the truth . . . Go up there and be a feminine personality . . . The first congressman who goes after you, I don't care what he says, you flash those eyes, and you come out with all the hostility you can muster, and you point right at him and say, 'You wouldn't dare ask that question if I were a man! You're sexist!' . . . Whether it's true or not is irrelevant. You will have taken the initiative, and any member of Congress you charge with being a sexist will be guilty in the public's mind, regardless of the facts."
Burford, who was cited for contempt of Congress in 1982, went wrong by appearing at Washington's doorstep with a fierce desire to serve Reagan, not the citizens who were paying her. She came confused. The president was her choice as a hero, but why not also the worthy people around the country who make up the organized resistance to the crimes and defilements of corporate polluters. Every region has these heroes, from citizens monitoring acid rain in their local rivers to families fighting for their health against the toxic-waste site across the street.
Burford has nothing to say about these people. She still hasn't learned where her first allegiances should have been: with the citizens, not a president. If Burford has had "an expensive midlife education," it has been another waste of money at EPA.