From the November 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Karen Brown isn't just the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Asbestos and Small Business Ombudsman--she's also your friend. Formerly a small-business employee, she understands how to juggle environmental issues and businesses' bottom lines. So, with 14 years of ombudsman experience, Brown continues forging ahead to make regulatory life a little easier for small businesses nationwide that face fines from $50,000 per violation per day. She says dial (800) 368-5888 for EPA relief. We say read up to understand how the EPA is on your side.

How do you disprove the misconception that the EPA is "the enemy"?

I'm a small-business advocate. You tell me you've got a problem--let's see how we can work it out. I ensure the agency looks at appropriate rules for small business, seeks small-business input early [which the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, passed in 1996, requires federal agencies to do], and conducts outreaches so small businesses have the information they need. I make small businesses understand and comply with environmental regulations. When I speak, I tell people to call me. [When they realize I] follow through, the rest is word-of-mouth: "Call Karen Brown at the EPA. She can help you."

What changes have you brought forth since 1985?

[I've created a program] where industry representatives meet with [EPA] agents and managers at least three times a year to hear their concerns and see how to resolve them. I help develop flexible techniques to work with small businesses. I [also] help develop incentives, like penalty reductions.

People call the hot line to ask about asbestos compliance or regulatory requirements, but what important questions aren't they asking?

About employee training, management practices and keeping good records. They're concerned about what they need to do to comply, but I think the key is training.

Describe your ultimate mission.

To have small businesses voluntarily comply, so we can use less enforcement and more assistance to help them. Sometimes I work 70 to 80 hours a week, but I don't have enough time to do all the things needed for small businesses because they're a special group. They wear different hats, and regulation is probably not top on their list--survival is. I feel for them.