Legislation to create a Department of the Environment to give new focus to environmental issues brought nothing but cheers six months ago, but now the proposal is mired in turf wars and its future is in doubt.

The administration cooled toward the idea after the House passed a bill it didn't like. Legislation has languished for months in the Senate with no hint when it might be scheduled for a floor vote.

"I think at the moment it's sort of stalled," said Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.), one of the key sponsors of the bill introduced in January to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to Cabinet level.

Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee who has pushed the EPA Cabinet issue, said he hasn't given up hope.

Glenn said in an interview that some progress is being made to get differences resolved. But he added, "I'm not predicting a date" for getting the bill to the Senate floor, much less working out differences from the House bill.

A number of complex issues, from the budget deficit to child care and clean air, face Congress when it returns next month from its August recess with only a few weeks remaining before the October campaign season. Despite the talk of smooth sailing earlier this year, the EPA Cabinet bill could become a casualty of the calendar, some environmentalists fear.

With considerable fanfare in January, President Bush announced his support for the legislation, which would create the government's 15th Cabinet-level department. Environmental challenges "are so important that they must be addressed at the highest level," he declared at a White House news conference.

Nothing has been heard publicly from Bush on the issue since. The president made no secret he had wanted the legislation to sign on Earth Day, April 22. He wound up going fishing in Florida instead.

Meanwhile, what had been seen as a simple piece of legislation with widespread bipartisan support began taking on political baggage.

In March, the House voted 371 to 55 to create a Department of the Environment, but added requirements seen by the White House as an attempt to "micro-manage" the executive branch.

The president made known that he likely would veto a bill that contains the House restrictions. The administration especially doesn't like provisions to create an independent Bureau of Statistics -- whose director could not be replaced short of malfeasance -- and limit the number of political appointees in the new department.

In the Senate, turf battles involving Senate committees and parts of the executive branch have kept the legislation in limbo since it cleared Glenn's Governmental Affairs Committee months ago.

The Senate disputes have not centered on the heart of the legislation but on the fringes: How would it affect the president's Council on Environmental Quality? Who would chair an interagency group on environmental issues within the White House? Would the new department usurp powers now in the Commerce or Energy departments?

Some leading environmental groups, including the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council, urged Senate leaders in a letter to end the stalemate.

"The issues in the 1990s are going to be more global in nature, and to give the EPA equal footing with other {environmental} ministers is vitally necessary," said William Klinefelter, legislative director for the Wildlife Federation.

But Ruth Caplan, president of the Washington-based Environmental Action, said creating a Department of the Environment might not be so significant. "It could give the impression of doing something for the environment without having to spend any real political chips," she said.