SACRAMENTO — Signaling his intention to reshape California's environmental policies, Gov. Pete Wilson named a 34-year-old federal official to head a new California Environmental Protection Agency.
James M. Strock, assistant administrator for enforcement at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will take on the job of creating a state agency that will assume responsibility for such issues as toxic waste cleanup, pesticide regulation and air pollution control.
"We are going to take charge of California's environment in the 1990s," Wilson said at a press conference called to introduce Strock.
Officially, Strock will be the secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, a cabinet-level position. However, his agency does not yet exist and will only come into being if the Legislature approves a reorganization plan Wilson's staff is drafting.
Standing at Wilson's side, Strock pledged to help the governor create "a Cal-EPA that is tough, smart, creative and vigorous in its protection of our environment and public health."
As the chief enforcement officer at the EPA since November, 1989, Strock has earned a reputation for strengthening the enforcement of environmental laws and for being able to work with environmentalists and industry representatives.
The selection of Strock quickly won praise from industry leaders, environmentalists and his current boss at the EPA, Administrator William K. Reilly.
"You are getting one of the nation's most creative and effective environmental enforcers," Reilly said in a letter released by Wilson's office. "He is aggressive, yet fair."
Wilson said the appointment of Strock was the first step in his plan to reorganize the state's regulation of environmental matters.
Although the plan is still being formulated, the California EPA would consolidate many of the environmental functions now handled by a variety of agencies. Strock, as secretary, would take the place of the current secretary of environmental affairs.
Among responsibilities that would come under the new agency is the controversial regulation of pesticides, which has long been administered by the Department of Food and Agriculture.
Wilson said the California EPA also would take over the regulation of air quality, water quality, solid waste, radioactive waste and toxic chemicals.
"The consolidation, I think, will prove useful both in terms of a better physical environment, a safer physical environment and also, hopefully, a clearer regulatory picture for those who are regulated," the governor said.
But at least one element of the reorganization plan already has come under fire from some environmentalists and health experts. They object to the possible transfer to the new agency of the responsibility for assessing health risks of chemicals, now carried out by the Department of Health Services.
These critics argue that the job of setting safety standards for various chemicals should remain separate from the agency that would handle the enforcement of those standards.
Bill Livingstone, Wilson's press secretary, said no final decisions have been made on what functions would be transferred to the new agency. The governor will unveil the final plan in 30 to 60 days, he said.
"It's premature to discuss what is going to be included or not included in the new agency," Livingstone said.
Strock, who graduated from Harvard University and Harvard Law School and studied at Oxford University, called for an open decision-making process in creating and running the new agency.
His actions, he said, will be based on "unassailable science" and he will focus his "most urgent attention" on matters presenting the greatest risk to public health and the environment.
Preventing pollution--not just cleaning it up--will be a high priority, he added. He also said he will seek to establish market incentives, as well as "vigorous, predictable enforcement," to encourage industry to better protect the environment.
Part of Strock's platform appeared aimed at winning the support of business leaders who fear they would lose a competitive edge to companies that flout environmental laws.
"Enforcement not only protects the public health, but it also assures that good corporate citizenship is not undercut by ill-gotten gains accruing to unscrupulous competitors," Strock said.
The appointment of Strock was well received by the business community. "Gov. Wilson has made what appears to be a wise choice," said William Campbell, president of the California Manufacturers Assn. "He brings to the job vast experience, in-depth expertise and what appears to be a strong commitment to bring in all parties to help solve California's environmental problems."
Michelle Corash, an attorney who has represented industry groups opposed to Proposition 65, the state's toxic chemicals law, said: "I think he'll be open to all points of view. I would not expect him to come in with a bent in either direction."
The appointment also was welcomed by Sierra Club lobbyist Mike Paparian. "He has a good reputation on enforcement issues at EPA and has helped to get them back on track," he said. "All in all, he seems to be the sort of guy we'll be able to work with."
In addition to serving as assistant administrator of the EPA, Strock, a Republican, worked in a private environmental law practice, as special counsel to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and as an assistant to former EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus.
Strock will receive $106,407 a year in his post. He must be confirmed by the Senate.