Muckraker hears from a reliable and informed source that Linda Fisher, EPA assistant administrator for toxics and pesticides under Bush the Elder, will return to the agency to serve as Christine Todd Whitman’s number two.

The source described the Fisher appointment as close to a done deal, a fact that did not sit altogether well with enviros working on the genetically engineered foods issue. After leaving government, Fisher served a stint as vice president for government and public affairs at Monsanto, a company that Greenpeace’s Rick Hind said has “probably led the world in making disastrous decisions on genetically modified products.”

“Instead of just business as usual,” Hind said of a possible Fisher appointment, “this would be more business than usual.”

But other greenies urged caution in jumping to conclusions about Fisher, saying she is actually more moderate than some suggest.

Whatever the case, Whitman met with transition team members and agency senior staff on Tuesday to discuss potential political appointments to the top jobs, which include the deputy administrator position as well as the assistant administrators for air, water, toxics, and several other key areas.

Where’s Herb?

Herb Tate, an EPA veteran who currently runs the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, is also rumored to be in line for one of the top jobs. But sources say Tate, a rising African-American political star, may not come to Washington for anything less than the deputy administrator job — which would be tough to score if Fisher already has a lock on it. Tate’s office did not return a call for comment.

Washington lawyer Donald Carr, author of a forthcoming biography on Richard Nixon-defier Elliot Richardson, is also said to be in line for a top job. Carr, a partner in the D.C. office of Pillsbury Winthrop, currently advises chemical and pharmaceutical companies on air toxics and Superfund matters. He worked at the Justice Department under presidents Reagan and Bush, rising as high as acting head of the lands and natural resources division. Carr also did not return a call for comment.

Back at the White House, buzz continues to center on John Howard, President Bush’s environmental policy director in Texas, as the likely candidate to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The New York Times reported in Nov. 1999 that Howard wrote a memo to Bush in 1997 indicating that industries in Texas were concerned that the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission was moving too quickly on legislation that would require industrial plants to reduce their toxic emissions.

Howard then held meetings, according to the Times, with industry leaders and state regulators to discuss the issue of air pollution. The bill eventually signed by Bush in 1999 did not include strict compliance requirements and was castigated by Texas enviros as riddled with loopholes.

News You Can Use

Good news and bad on the environmental journalism front. The bad news you probably know: CNN has cut back on its green coverage as a result of layoffs in the wake of the AOL Time Warner merger. The good news you may also know if you scrutinize newspaper bylines as closely as Muckraker does: The Washington Post has finally put a full-time reporter back on the green beat. And quite a reporter he is.

Long-time congressional budget scribe Eric Pianin hasn’t formally stepped into the slot yet, but he has already begun to write on green topics, notably the flap over Gale Norton’s nomination as Interior secretary. Look for Pianin to crank up his enviro-themed copy over the next few months while also lending a hand in coverage of President Bush’s first budget submission and its fate on Capitol Hill.

All you flacks tired of pitching five different Post reporters on every story may now breathe a collective sigh of relief. 1-2-3 . . . ahh. Isn’t that better?

As for the bad news, Peter Dykstra, executive producer for science, technology, and environment at CNN, says that while the cable channel’s weekend show “Earth Matters” is in fact history and the Nature section of the CNN.com website and its one full-time employee defunct, the environmental unit remains intact and pieces that would have aired on “Earth Matters” will now show up on “Science and Technology Week,” which airs Saturday afternoons at 1:30 p.m. EST.

Two CNN reporters who do nothing but environmental news, Natalie Pawelski on domestic stories and Gary Strieker on international topics, also remain very much on the beat, contributing pieces to a variety of weekend shows, as well to regular CNN news programs during the week.

Nor will all the green content disappear from CNN.com; some of it will simply migrate to the Science and Technology section of the site.

In a telephone interview, Dykstra acknowledged that it’s not exactly the ideal situation but said things aren’t nearly as bleak as the chatter on some enviro listservs would have one believe.

The Boss.

Meet the Boss

Major change is already afoot at Greenpeace USA under new executive director (and New Jersey native) John Passacantando. We speak, of course, of the new on-hold music: none other than Garden State favorite son Bruce Springsteen.

Forget the sounds of the rainforest. Or the plaintive cries of seals. For the newly muscular Greenpeace, only the Boss will do.