It’s been a busy few weeks for EPA Administrator Carol Browner. During Senate testimony last week she launched an emotional attack on the recent appeals court ruling that invalidated EPA’s 1997 clean air standards. One Muckraker source present at the hearing said Browner had Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) tied in knots as he repeatedly attempted to steer her away from the court decision and onto sulfur standards, the actual topic at hand. Browner is back on the Hill again this week to talk about a GOP Superfund reform bill.

Perhaps Browner hasn’t had a great deal of time to ponder the 2000 political landscape. But we have. Muckraker keeps hearing Browner’s name floated as a possible candidate for the Florida Senate seat being vacated by Republican Connie Mack next year. Last week it was Ellen Malcolm talking up Browner as a possible candidate. Malcolm, as president of EMILY’s List, a powerful political action committee that funnels millions of campaign dollars to pro-choice, Democratic women each election cycle, could be a major Browner ally should she choose to run.

Right now, the field for the Florida Senate race is something of a moving target, with possible candidates taking their names out of the running every few days. The only Democrat Browner would certainly have to battle is Florida Insurance Commissioner (and former U.S. Rep) Bill Nelson, though other Dems could get in as well.

On the opposite side of the aisle, Rep. Bill McCollum (who played a starring role for the GOP during impeachment) is the only announced Republican candidate for the Mack seat, but others are expected to join the fray soon.

Observers speculate that Vice President Al Gore‘s campaign operation is encouraging Browner to get in the race to give a boost to the veep’s presidential effort in a key swing state currently run by the baby brother of GOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush.

Some Florida Democrats are leery of a Browner bid, fearing it could sow seeds of uncertainty in what they view as a slam dunk race for them, with Nelson easily putting away McCollum, who is thought incapable of appealing to moderates, particularly with the vitriolic stand he took on impeachment.

Tony Welch, communications director for the Florida Dems, told Muckraker that no efforts would be made to try and discourage a Browner candidacy: “We don’t have any intent of doing that. … All the names that people mention on the Democratic side, Nelson or Browner or anyone else, are in position to win that race. I don’t see Floridians going for Bill McCollum.”

Browner has never actually uttered a single public word about being interested in a run, but neither has she gone out of her way to quash the Senate chatter. She will probably have to make up her mind by late summer or early fall if there’s to be enough time to put together a campaign operation and start raising dough.

But What About Hillary?

The Republican National Committee suggested this week that another highly visible Democratic woman should consider making a bid for Florida’s open Senate seat rather than New York’s: Hillary Rodham Clinton. If she really wants to run in the Empire State, an RNC press release advised, she should take advantage of New York’s many tourist attractions instead of jetting off for a vacation in Florida at the end of this month. One suggested travel destination: “Allegany State Park where, because of Republican Governor George Pataki’s leadership, the First Lady can rent a rustic cabin at rates every New Yorker can afford, and learn something about the great outdoors.”

Bush Watch

It’s crunch time in the environmental arena for Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R), who recently pronounced himself “convinced” after a series of scientific briefings that global warming does, in fact, exist.

The Texas legislature is now debating two environmental issues — emissions standards for old industrial plants and toxic waste dumping in Texas — that will no doubt become large chunks of the enviro record on which the young governor will campaign. Bush is on the opposite side of Texas enviros on emissions standards for the older plants (he would keep them voluntary, they would make them mandatory), but he has expressed serious concern over a bill opposed by enviros that would allow private companies to operate toxic waste dumps in Texas.

The Texas House voted late Tuesday evening to send the voluntary version of the bill into conference with the Senate after capitulating on a number of amendments pushed by enviros, according to Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen. Smith, who checked in with Muckraker from Austin, said that House leaders approved the amendments after realizing they did not have the votes to beat them back. There will be further wrangling in conference, however, where the Bush administration may try to alter the version of the bill passed by the House. Stay tuned for the final outcome.

Bush may feel a bit of heat should he decide to actively fight — or ultimately veto — the waste dumping bill, which is still pending in conference. The Houston Chronicle reported recently that Harold Simmons, the majority owner of Waste Control Specialists, a major supporter of the bill, gave Bush $35,000 during his 1998 reelection campaign and gave $465,000 to national GOP committees in the last two election cycles.

Nonetheless, Texas enviros are counting on a Bush veto of the dumping bill should it escape the legislature and reach his desk. “Bush, to his credit, has come out strongly against privatization of the dump and the opening of our dumps to large quantities of nuclear waste from the Department of Energy, even though one of the potential contractors is one his largest donors,” Public Citizen’s Smith said.