The selection of Carol M. Browner to head the Environmental Protection Agency may provide an early indication of how the new administration will reconcile the ardent environmentalism of Vice President-elect Gore with President-elect Clinton's more pro-business record: At least in Browner's case, the tilt is toward Gore.
Young, bright, hard-nosed and a self-proclaimed environmentalist, Browner has the mind and training of an attorney-legislator but the soul of an activist, according to many of those who have watched her over the past two years as she rejuvenated Florida's dispirited state environmental agency and took on a variety of industry and business interests.
With her record, as well as her professional and philosophical ties to Gore -- she served as his legislative director in the Senate before going to work for Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles -- Browner was greeted warmly by some organized environmental groups yesterday.
"Like a breath of fresh air after 12 years of choking smog," rejoiced the chairman of the Sierra Club, J. Michael McCloskey. "She will successfully implement the Clinton-Gore administration's policies to protect public health and the environment from degradation."
But others struggled to gauge the potential impact of an appointee who has never held a high-profile Washington position and who remains something of an unknown, despite service on the Senate staffs of Gore and Chiles before he became governor. "Nobody knows her," confessed a spokesman for one national group.
Named just five days before her 37th birthday, Browner has considerably more experience as a legislative aide than as the administrator of a large, complex executive agency. That fact, combined with her ties to Gore, inevitably will lead to speculation about how independent she can be as head of the EPA, some observers believe.
Others are already sure. "She's not going to be anybody's lackey," said Jim Webb, regional director for the Wilderness Society in Miami.
As head of Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation, Browner is credited with skillfully resolving complex and long-standing disputes, including settling a federal lawsuit against the state over water pollution in the Everglades by admitting the state's culpability. She has not shied away from confronting powerful business interests in that state, such as the sugar industry and paper and oil companies.
"I am an environmentalist," she declared in her first speech after taking the state post. "My mission is very clear: It's to protect the resources."
Business interests give her high marks for intelligence and preparedness; but many fault her for being abrasive, uncompromising and a relatively inexperienced manager who takes on too much instead of delegating authority.
Asked to describe her style, Jon Shebel, head of Florida's largest business trade association, said: "She kicks the door open, throws in a hand grenade, and then walks in to shoot who's left. She really doesn't like to compromise."
Having said that, Shebel acknowledged that Browner "has done a pretty good job down here. People have more complaints with the way she does it than what she does."
Robert Buker, a top officer of U.S. Sugar, which will be affected by steps to guard the Everglades, called Browner a strong advocate for "very rigorous environmental regulation."