| How do
youor even, can you move the 30-year-old
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) into the21st century?
If itsto be done, Christie Todd
Whitman, the agencys newest administrator, is up
to the task at hand.
With the ease of an accomplished diplomat who knows her facts
inside and out, Whitman appears eager to move beyond the agencys
previous command and control mode. Instead, Whitman
advocates forging new partnerships. Its time for
us to build on those and not to expect that its going
to be the federal government that has all the answers,
Indeed, she emphasizes, there is no one
answer thats going to meet everyones needs.
Cover Story Articles
months of environmental progress
Energy for Cincinnati Labs
support of a cabinet-level department
On January 21, 2001, Christie Todd Whitman was sworn in as administrator
of the EPA. Her confirmation hearings were anything but smooth sailing;
Whitmans critics debated what they viewed as her pro-business
stance, citing not only her record as governor of New Jersey, but
also her own testimony before the U.S. Senate, in which she said
she believed that environmental and economic goals go hand-in-hand.
Yet, in the end, it was her environmental accomplishments as governor
that eventually led to her confirmation. From the time that she
was elected governor seven years earlier (the states first
female governor), the number of days that New Jersey violated the
federal one-hour air quality standard for ground level ozone dropped
from 45 in 1988 to four in 2000. The state is also on target to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels.
In addition, beach closings in New Jersey reached a record low,
and the state earned recognition by the Natural Resources Defense
Council (NRDC) for instituting the most comprehensive beach monitoring
system in the nation. Whitman won voter approval for a plan to break
a long-standing impasse over dredging the states ports. She
also established a new watershed management program, and New Jersey
now leads the nation in opening shellfish beds for harvesting.
Finally, as a preservationist, Whitman, the governor, won voter
approval for the states first stable funding source to preserve
one million more acres of open space and farmland by the year 2011.
Calling this one of her greatest accomplishments, nearly as much
landmore than 250,000 acreswas preserved during her
administration as in the previous three decades of the states
land preservation program. Whitman is a vocal advocate of smart
growth and she encourages redevelopment of cities through programs
to streamline cleanups of abandoned industrial brownfield sites.
It is, perhaps, because of her first-hand knowledge of what needs
to be done at the local and state level that provides her with a
unique perspective of what can and should be done by a federal agency
such as the EPA. The best solutions, she says, lie at these levels.
Yet, she also admits that without federal legislation, state and
local governments can only go so far. It is her job now to provide
the framework within which state and local governments can work.
Whitman spends much time taking her message on the road, delivering
it to grassroots groups as well as national and international organizations
from Florida to New York, from Alaska to Texas and numerous points
in between. She has delivered nearly 50 major policy speeches in
the past six months and met with numerous stakeholder groups from
government, business, industry and environmental groups as well
as interested citizens. Her message, as summarized in her recent
agency progress report, is clear: In keeping with the presidents
philosophy of government, EPA is promoting market-based solutions
to environmental challenges, focusing on environmental results over
bureaucratic process and building partnerships with the American
Whitman took time in August to talk with green@work about her goals
for the EPA and the challenges that lie ahead in accomplishing them.
She also responded to criticism that has been leveled at the current
administrations stance on some of the issues. Whitman does
not shy away from either. Just because somethings hard,
she says, doesnt mean you dont do it.
As EPA administrator, what are your immediate
objectives and your long-term goals?
WHITMAN: I will start with the
long-term goals. What I want to be able to say when I leave officewhat
the president wants to be able to say when he leaves officeis
that during the course of our time here, we made the air cleaner,
the water purer and the land better protected than we found it.
That is really what this agency is all about. In order to accomplish
this, we obviously have to look at our regulatory process. Are we
as efficient and effective as we can be? Is there something more
we can do to make sure we are getting done what we want to get done?
Are we leveraging all possible partners?
There are some immediate things that Id like to see done.
I think brownfields legislation is very, very important. We can
do an awful lotand its not just about cleaning up polluted
sites. Its also about land use and protection of open space.
These things all go hand-in-hand. Were working very actively
to be able to present the president with a clean energy billa
multi-pollutant bill as others call itto get at those emissions
that really have a measurable negative impact on healthcaps
that are meaningful, that will go beyond what we can get through
with the myriad programs we have now. I think well be serving
the public better and achieving better results.
Were also looking very actively at watershed initiatives.
Weve done all the point source work; now its more of
a challenge. Its harder to quantify, it involves public participation
and education to a much greater degree than anything weve
done before, and were looking for some projects that we can
use as models.
Would you say these initiatives are individual goals of yours?
WHITMAN: At the moment they are. Im hoping to make
them a goal of the presidents as well.
Many of the things that you talked aboutBrownfields
for exampleare accomplished on a state and/or local level.
Do you want to move more environmental initiatives to these levels?
WHITMAN: Well, we think that
thats where the best solutions lie, but I can tell you that
without federal legislation, states and local governments can only
go so far. As governor of New Jersey, I signed some very far-reaching
brownfields legislation that even included some liability protection
for the innocent third party that came in to develop it. But even
then, since I couldnt guarantee protection against the federal
government coming in as it was all under Superfund, it didnt
take off. Weve done some extraordinary things in brownfields,
but theres so much more that can be done with federal protections.
Thats why its important that we act in synch. As far
as looking at partnerships and actually getting the work done on
the ground, its the states and local communities that are
there. They know what their problems are. The problems in one state
are going to be very different from the problems in another, and
answers within a state are going to differ from one part of the
state to the other. So what were looking for are ways to ensure
that we live up to our responsibility as the Environment Protection
Agency of protecting the public health and environment. We need
to establish standards that are the same, but allow enough flexibility
within the regions of the states for them to respond to those challenges
in the ways that meet their particular needs.
You have an impressive environmental record
as the governor of New Jersey. Of which accomplishments are you
WHITMAN: I think it would have
to be getting a stable source of funding for the million acres of
open space. The preservation of that was a goal that had been in
the heart of many in the environmental community in New Jersey.
They didnt think they could ever really get anybody to commit
to that large of an amount and get the funding source stable. I
had a great group of people who were very, very committed to getting
that done, and the way it was approved by the voters, I think, will
prevent any backsliding in the future.
The thing I liked about it, it wasnt just open space. It was
watershed. It was particular targets of land to be preserved along
waterways for parks and recreation and agricultural land. My particular
favorite was 2,000 more miles of bike trails.
In your confirmation hearings, you said
that you believe that environmental and economic goals can go hand-in-hand.
In reality, though, isnt this pretty hard to accomplish?
WHITMAN: Just because somethings
hard doesnt mean you dont do it. In fact, if you look
at the history of this country in the last 30 years, youve
seen economic growth of unprecedented levels, youve seen energy
use increase at enormous levelsand yet youve seen environmental
greenhouse gases go down. Its clear you can have both things,
and we have a number of programs that prove it. Energy Star is a
wonderful program. Its voluntary, but what happens is that
businesses can see what it means to their bottom lines when they
save on energy costs by putting a little bit of extra investment
up front. We had a facility-wide permit program in New Jersey that
teamed our environmental protection people with businesses to help
set targets up front, determining acceptable emissions and then
its their job to figure out how to get there in a way that keeps
them competitive. The process was a little cumbersome, though, so
were working on a similar program here that is not so cumbersome.
I think what has made it difficult to have good environmental stewardship
and economic growth is when you insist on micromanaging from the
environmental point of view. This agency, for instance, is not qualified
to tell a business how to run its business. What we are qualifiedwhat
were requiredto do is to tell a business whats
acceptable for them to put into the air, the water, the land. But
thats what we should care about, not how they get there.
Should it be performance-based, not prescriptive?
WHITMAN: Absolutely. Thats
the way to achieve the goals that we want to achieve. What we found
when we did our facility-wide permitting is that when you sit down
with businesses and draw their attention to what they were using
that was problematic, that was going to result in hazardous emissions,
they said, We dont even need that chemical, we can do
it a different way. It ended up costing them less money at
the front end of the process. So, not only did you cut down on the
paperwork that they have to fill out, which is real money to business,
but you also engage their creative genius, and they were able to
find ways to do even better.
The Acid Rain program is a perfect example again. Its gone
from where we had targets that everybody agreed to, to where weve
seen improvements at a faster rate than anybody anticipated.
There is renewed interest in making the
EPA a Cabinet-level department. Do you believe this is important?
Do you think that its likely to happen?
WHITMAN: I think its a
very good move, and I think its time for it to happen. It
ensures that under every administration the environment will be
a recognized partner in all that we do, and thats important.
I dont know that were ever going to go backward. It
started with former President Bush when the EPA was invited to the
table as a member of the cabinet. Im accorded that same status
by this president. It probably wont change any of my working
relationshipsthe cabinet has a very good working relationship,
and I am considered a member of the cabinet. But thats this
administration, and thats been the last three. You dont
know if thats necessarily going to happen in the future. I
believe that most Americans feel that the environment is important
enough that they want to ensure that it is accorded that kind of
status. I think this is the first time that youve got the
president actively promoting a particular piece of legislation.
I think we have two billsboth are clean billsones
a little more prescriptive than the other, but nothing that cant
be talked about, negotiated. However, whats always happened
is that people have had their particular issue with the agency that
they feel its very important to include, and once you open
it up for one person to include something on the bill, then someone
else wants something else.
Some people who arent in favor of this argue that EPAs
decisions are more political and not based solely on science. Do
you agree with that?
WHITMAN: Its probably
happened at times. Politics has driven more than policy and science
at times, but basically this agency has a very strong scientific
background. We do put everything out to peer review. When the science
drives the policy, its very good. I believe science has got
to be the basis of all regulatory actions because otherwise we lack
justification for doing what were doing. But I know some of
the response to critics is that well create an assistant administrator
for science; however, you can ignore any assistant administrator
that you want to ignore. That isnt going to guarantee that
science is given the kind of precedence that they would like. Thats
really a function of the pushback of those who are interested in
it, the commitment of the administration to science, the fact that
it should be. Im not against it one way or the other. I can
live with that. My only concern is that, again, if you put that
in, then somebody else who thinks that thats just a sneaky
way to mean that EPA is never going to do anything, will put something
else in, and you start getting all these additions.
Its a question of the window of opportunity, and I am perfectly
willing to talk, and I indicated that in my testimony that those
who were interested in having an assistant administrator for science,
Im more than interested in talking to them about it. Were
already in the process of doing some internal changes that would
ensure that science is at the forefront.
Its a regulatory process that we start including it right
at the beginning and not bring it in at the end. But if thats
what they want to see, then I said I would work with them on it,
but Id like to see that as a separate discussion, not a part
of the capital-level bill.
New Jersey was on target, under your administration,
to meet the goals that were set up in the KYOTO treaty to reduce
the Greenhouse emissions.
WHITMAN: We set a target to
reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels, and I said lets do
it with an eye toward Kyoto. We didnt lock in and agree to
all the Kyoto goals.
This administration, though, has said that
Kyoto is seriously flawed. How do you reconcile the differences
between what appears to be your belief in those goals and the administrations
WHITMAN: What the administration
is saying is seriously flawed is the broad issue of global climate
change. Developing nations are producing more greenhouse gas emissions
today than the developed nations all together. To have a protocol
that calls for significant reductions in the United States and does
not call for any firm set of dates when you would start to include
Chinawhich is second in greenhouse gas emissions to the United
States right now and will outpace us in a few years, or India, which
is in the top 10is not going to solve the problem of global
climate change. What I was looking at as governor was what we could
do to keep reducing emissionsbeing on the East Coast we are
a state that benefits from all thats done west and southwest
of us, and it comes by air.
We have a responsibility to do everything we can, and thats
what I was looking at because you have to care about the health
of your public. We also engaged in some lawsuits against some of
the other states on transport issues. And I dont feel that
theres any problem here in saying the president has said he
wants to address the issue of global climate change. The president
has said he believes this is an important issue. And then, if we
can get a multi-emission bill through that puts significant reductions
and caps on SOX, NOX and Mercury, we will have done more for public
health and clean air than practically any other administration,
save Nixon when he started the EPA, probably. It really will be
enormous. I mean literally thousands of deaths prevented and tens
of thousands of hospital visits avoided if you can reach those levels.
So the president is very committed to cleaning up the air. His concern
with Kyoto has to do with how the United States gets credit for
sinks, and why arent other developing nations involved. If
you take China and Indiawere not talking about Guatemalawere
talking about China and India, large thriving economies, growing
economies who, except for some political decisions, would certainly
be considered developed nations today. So from the perspective of
the national government, I think those are very real concerns.
Do you think the development of hybrid
cars should be a priority in our efforts to reduce emissions?
WHITMAN: We certainly know that
mobile sources are one of the greatest contributing factors, and
the technology doesnt appear to be there to move up the gas
mileage of carsthe alternate fuel vehicles are the ones that
will offer real possibility and no reduction in performance. Thats
whats taken a while to get to, but Ive had the pleasure
of having driven a couple of them now, an SUV even, that was a hybrid
fuel vehicle, and there was no performance lag at all. Thats
why the presidents part of the Energy Task Force report called
for both the Department of Energy and for congress to provide some
additional incentives to people to increase the research and hurry
it along a bit and also to encourage people to buy them by providing
some tax incentives. Again, a number of states are doing that where
you get significant rebates if you buy an alternate fuel vehicle
or a hybrid vehicle.
What would you say are the most important
differences in the environmental priorities of the Bush administration
versus the Clinton administration?
WHITMAN: Probably a real commitment
to listening to partners. This agency has accomplished a lot in
its 30-year-history with a command and control model. Thats
how it was established, thats how its gone forward and
the environment is cleaner. But we are now in a position to take
that next step into the 21st century to see more gains by recognizing
that the states have become much more sophisticated now. They can
be active partners with the federal government. To recognize that
in the course of those 30 years peoples attitudes toward the
environment has changed. People now understand that theres
a relationship between personal activity and environmental pollution,
and they can help protect the environment. Theyre much more
sensitive to those issues now. So its time for us to build
on that. People cant expect that its going to be the
federal government that has all the answers and is going to do everything.
It is why this administration proposed two new programs in the budget,
which recognize that states can be better partners, but that theyre
going to need some help from the federal government in terms of
providing them with additional resources to do the work that were
asking them to do. But theyre prepared to do it because they
know that one size does not fit all. We are not going to have an
answer from Washington thats going to meet everybodys
Are you stung by the criticisms that the
Bush administration relies too heavily on big business to self regulate?
WHITMAN: Im frustrated
by it. I hear it all the time. Then I look at the first decision
I made on diesel fuel. Oil companies were supposed to be the big
bad brother who was in there determining everything, and the decision
I made went exactly the opposite from what they would have wanted.
If you look at the administration overall, theres this perceptionyet
if you put it against reality, it doesnt always track. I dont
think that the criticism the administration gets is always fair.
There are those who also dont want to see any rethinking of
any decision that was made in the past. They believe that if you
rethink something, that really is just a subtle way
of saying youre going to undo it, that you really didnt
care about it and youre not going to support it. Thats
not true. For example, we were asked, as a part of the Energy Report,
to take another look at New Source Review. I dont know how
anybody whos honest with you could look you in the eye and
say that New Source Review has worked the way it was intended to
work in retrofitting old power plants. It just has not. For new
facilities, I think everybody would say its in pretty good
shape, its working pretty well. But for the old ones, it hasnt
been working the way we wanted it to, and looking at it doesnt
mean its just a sneaky way to do away with it. Ive also
heard people say, Well, youve backed off from enforcement,
so that really sends a message. Were still enforcing.
Were in active negotiations with a number of utilities and
just two weeks ago had another settlement of $20 million for a utility.
So I hear about how were backing away and how were not
doing it, and the only thing I can think is that these people just
dont want you to look at anything in the hopes that maybe
you can improve upon it. And maybe youre being honest when
you say that if you can make it more efficient, if you can make
it more effective, you really have an obligation to do that.
Tell us a little bit about the recent EPA
decision to follow through on the Hudson River cleanup plan.
WHITMAN: As you know, thats
still the interim record of decision that weve gone forward
with. It will become final sometime in September. By the end of
September it has to be looked at by New York State. Theyre
reviewing it, and were reviewing it here in Washington. And
Interior has a role to play. I based that decision really on what
the scientists were telling me, what the experts were telling me.
I took a hard look at everything that had been done. But there was
no question in my mind, and, having been a governor downstate from
the Hudson River in New Jersey, I had always been concerned about
PCBs in the water. It wasnt a question of my thinking that
PCBs werent dangerous. I was totally convinced that PCBs can
cause cancer and potential carcinogens in humans, and we want them
out of the river.
Yet, that was not the issue for me. The issue was, Is this
the right way to go about it? What about the concerns of re-suspension?
Can you dredge in a way that doesnt do more harm than good?
And I took a long time, I talked with all our people and met with
all the legislators and some of the environmental groups that wanted
it and with the legislators and residents who didnt want the
project. I heard from all sides. I heard from GE. We asked them
in, and they made a couple of proposals. I didnt see anything
that convinced me that it was really better than what we had, that
it was really going to go toward solving the problem. But what I
did include in it, because of the concerns I felt were legitimate,
is the requirement that we monitor this very closely, each step
along the way, as we go along; not wait until part of its
done and then stop for two or three years. Thats not what
were going to do. Were talking about ongoing monitoring
to see if the re-suspension numbers are where we think they ought
to be. Most people think that nothings moving on the Hudson,
that its all encapsulated, and thats not true. Five
hundred pounds of PCBs go over that dam every year. What the scientists
tell me is that, in the course of dredging, they estimate about
40 pounds more of PCBs would be put into the river, but given what
youre taking out, its going to be a net gain for the
river all along the way. Well, we need to watch that and make sure
thats whats happening. If its not, we can stop
it. Its our obligation, our responsibility to the people on
the river, both up river and down river, and really to the taxpayers
overallthough GE is hopefully going to pay for this. Once
we sign, once the record of decision becomes final, theres
an obligation to ensure that this is working.
Can you comment on recent Congressional
actions regarding drilling in the Artic national wildlife refuge?
How do you answer critics who argue that it does nothing to address
energy concerns or our dependence on foreign oil?
WHITMAN: Well, as you know,
thats more of an Interior issue than it is an EPA issue, but
having been a member of the Energy Task Force, I would say its
interesting because to me its a perfect example of how you
use statistics in different ways. I have heard a lot of people say
its only six months worth of oil, but what they dont
say is its six months of oil used today to run every
single building, every single house, every single car, truck, bus
in the United States for six months. Thats an awful lot of
oil. The other way to look at it is its more than 30 years
of import, I believe, from Saudi Arabiaits the same
set of figures. Nobodys lying, its just the way you
look at it. The whole truth is not just six months. Thats
six months if you used it, just that oil, to fuel every single thing
in this country that uses oil. And, of course, that never happens.
Also, there are new technologies now that give us the ability to
do things in new ways, such as you dont drill all over the
place. You dont put a whole lot of derricks all over the place
and degrade the land that way. You do one, and then you run horizontally.
You do it in wintertime so that when the ice roads melt, you dont
see it in the summer. There are ways to do it that have much less
environmental impact than weve known in the past. And given
that youre talking about a significant amount of oilreally,
if you look at it relative to foreign dependence on imported oil,
which, of course, has a lot to do with price and everything elseits
probably worth going to take a look.