WASHINGTON -- President Clinton established a White House Office on Environmental Policy yesterday that he said would give environmental planners unprecedented access to the highest levels of federal policy-making.
Administration officials said yesterday that the new office would have fewer staff members than the Council on Environmental Quality, which it is replacing. The council currently has about 35 employees; officials would not specify the new number.
"It's a streamlining, a reorganization that makes sense," said Vice President Al Gore.
The new office reflects, and greatly enhances, the environmental and technological role that Mr. Gore has been trying to carve out for himself in the administration. Its director, Kathleen McGinty, a 29-year-old lawyer, was a senior environmental adviser to Mr. Gore in the Senate. While her official position now is deputy assistant to the president, she remains on Mr. Gore's staff.
One environmentalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he thought the purpose of replacing the council with the new organization was "as much to give Mr. Gore something to do as it is to coordinate policy."
The size of the new unit apparently was kept lean to help meet Mr. Clinton's campaign promise about cutting White House spending.
Ms. McGinty, Mr. Clinton said, will participate in the administration's councils on national security, the economy and domestic policy, making her organization the centerpiece of efforts to infuse environmental thinking into all spheres of policy planning.
"We face urgent environmental and economic challenges that demand a new way of thinking and a new way of organizing our efforts," Mr. Clinton said.
"This office represents in action our commitment to confront these challenges," he said, echoing a campaign promise to align economic growth with environmental protection and give leadership on global environmental issues.
Mr. Clinton also reaffirmed his intention to give the Environmental Protection Agency full departmental status and make its administrator a Cabinet secretary -- a function EPA chief Carol M. Browner already enjoys informally, as did her predecessor under Mr. Bush.
Environmentalists generally applauded the moves.
"It represents a significant elevation of environmental concerns in the decision-making structure of the White House," said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The 24-year-old council that is being replaced was starved of funds under President Ronald Reagan and given only slight encouragement under President George Bush.