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EPA flap grows louder despite White House attempts to mute it

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Like a rolling snowball that just gets bigger and bigger, Congress's investigations of the Environmental Protection Agency are gaining momentum with a speed that has taken nearly everyone involved by surprise.

While congressional sources say they as yet have no hard evidence that EPA administrator Anne Burford has done anything illegal, her position is apparently becoming increasingly tenuous. White House efforts to stop the chaos have so far had little effect.

''The White House really has the damage control team out now,'' says one congressional source. ''But we're not convinced this shuffling is going to make any difference at all,'' adds another.

The controversy began last October, when Congress first asked to see certain EPA documents dealing with hazardous waste cleanup efforts. Since the turn of the year, however, the scope of congressional investigations has broadened with amazing rapidity.

Six congressional committees, including a Republican-controlled Senate panel, are now part of the hunt. The charges they are investigating include manipulation of hazardous-waste cleanups for political purposes, sloppy record-keeping of spending from the Superfund (the $1.6 billion fund set aside by Congress for cleaning up hazardous-waste dumps), perjury and conflict of interest among high EPA officials, and a conservative tilt in appointing scientists to EPA advisory panels.

White House efforts to slow the snowballing criticism have so far had little effect.

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