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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR : Brown Urges Merger of Environmental Agencies


Calling California's current environmental regulation process "a mess," Democrat Kathleen Brown on Wednesday offered a plan to streamline the system and spur economic development by eliminating 55 agencies and programs for a saving of about $100 million over four years.

At a news conference in Los Angeles, the gubernatorial candidate called for a new single agency--the Environmental Protection Commission--to coordinate regulatory activity. Under this restructuring, she said, businesses would be able to obtain a single environmental permit regulating air, water, toxic substances and waste.

Brown also called for an environmental budget that would set clear goals for cleaning up pollution. She charged that Republican Gov. Pete Wilson has offered "only Band-Aids and slogans" for environmental problems and said her new commission would be audited every two years "so the people will know whether the goals are being met and who to hold accountable."

"These are real changes, not cosmetic ones," Brown said. "They stand in contrast to the Wilson Administration's protection of environmental patronage appointments at the expense of the health of both our environment and our economy."

Brown's proposal, her last major policy initiative before the Nov. 8 election, was immediately lauded by U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, who joined several conservation, labor and business leaders in flanking Brown as she made her remarks. The Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and the California State Building and Construction Trades Council also endorsed it.

The Wilson campaign, meanwhile, found itself facing a controversy as the governor toured the agricultural communities of Salinas, Yuba City and Kingsburg on Wednesday. The controversy arose over a newspaper article that said he believes all Californians will have to carry identification cards if Proposition 187 passes. The initiative would deny most public services to illegal immigrants.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that in an interview, Wilson was asked: "You're governor, you're reelected, 187 passes. Will there be a card that people have to carry in California to prove that they are legal residents?" According to the Chronicle, Wilson told political editor Susan Yoachum, "Yes."

But late Wednesday, Wilson's campaign issued a statement saying that the governor "missed the point" of Yoachum's question and therefore gave an answer that was misunderstood.

"He did not, is not, and has never proposed--nor does he envision--that all Californians must 'carry' a new identification card if Proposition 187 passes," said Dan Schnur, a Wilson spokesman. "His one-word response to a reporter's question was in the context of a one-hour discussion in which he rejected the scare tactics of Proposition 187 opponents. . . ."

"The Chronicle now seeks to give greater weight and emphasis to the word carry that was the characterization of the reporter, not by the governor, who missed the point the reporter was trying to establish during the interview."

The Chronicle stood by the story.

Brown, who supports a tamper-proof Social Security card to verify legal residency, said the idea of making all residents--including children--carry identification cards is "just plain wrong. It is un-American. This latest suggestion from Pete Wilson crosses the line."

A group opposing the measure, Taxpayers Against 187, noted that national experts have as yet been unable to devise an identification system that is cost-effective, reliable and does not violate civil rights.

Wilson's campaign, which announced the endorsements of more than 200 agricultural leaders from throughout the state Wednesday, sought to undermine the impact of Brown's call for environmental regulatory reforms by questioning her positions on other matters affecting California's economy.

At her news conference, a Wilson aide distributed handouts titled "Kathleen Brown Dead Last in Trade Olympics" that accused Brown of flip-flopping on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Brown replied that if elected, she will be better at making NAFTA work for California than Wilson could ever be "because of the role he has played in the bashing of immigrants through Proposition 187."

James M. Strock, Wilson's secretary for environmental protection, said he worried that Brown's proposed commission would create a new level of "super-bureaucracy" that would be expensive and would fail to provide leadership.

"The key is to have a single point of accountability to the governor. That would be lost," said Strock, who heads the California Environmental Protection Agency. He said Wilson is already cutting bureaucracy and reforming the permitting process. "It's good to see her coming this way."

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