Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, now 49, was in his early teens when his mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, became embroiled in an early Reagan administration crisis.

In 1981, a new Republican White House looking to ease what it deemed onerous regulations named her as the first woman to head the Environmental Protection Administration.

“There is no riper pasture for regulatory reform than EPA,” she told an interviewer at the time. Advocates expressed alarm as enforcement staff were cut.

One year into her tenure, Congress accused the EPA of mishandling a $1.6 billion toxic waste fund and demanded relevant records. At the White House’s direction, she refused — and was cited for contempt of Congress.

She took the hit for EPA’s woes and resigned in 1983, saying she’d been prevented from functioning in the job and that “it’s hard to lead a normal life when there are people camped in your front yard.”

The records for which the White House had claimed executive privilege were eventually turned over. Reagan said in a letter praising her stewardship that he was “greatly disappointed” that Burford had been unjustifiably attacked.

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But according to her 1986 memoir, “Are You Tough Enough?” she said she’d sought to speak to Reagan about her serious concerns regarding the fight with Congress — but was “stunned” to hear his top aide, James Baker, reply on the phone: “Anne, are you going to be a prima donna about this?”

Before Burford departed, an underling named Rita Lavelle, who had been an operative in California’s Republican Party, ran afoul of the law. She was accused by a fellow EPA employee of misusing Superfund money and mishandling cleanup at a massive toxic dump in her home state.

Lavelle eventually served three months in jail on her conviction for lying to a House subcommittee. “The American people know I was framed,” she told reporters in 1985.

Twenty years later, Lavelle was imprisoned on wire fraud involving a private consulting firm she’d been involved with.

Three decades after the fact, the matter of how the federal government regulates industries lends Burford’s troubled tenure at the agency a bit of political currency.

Environmentalists consider this an object lesson in regulation.

For his part, Neil Gorsuch, as a lawyer and judge, has shown interest in limiting federal regulators’ power under constitutional restraints.

For that and other reasons, he’s considered an ideological successor to the late Antonin Scalia, whose seat Gorsuch is expected to fill.

Anne Gorsuch Burford died in 2004 at age 62.