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EPA Head Christie Whitman Quits Bush Cabinet

by J.R. Pegg

Bush Anti-Environmental Extremism Spurs Panic (March 2001)
(ENS) WASHINGTON -- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman has resigned her post with the Bush administration. In a letter submitted to President George W. Bush yesterday, Whitman said she will leave the administration on June 27, 2003 in order to spend more time with her family.

"It is time to return to my home and husband in New Jersey, which I love just as you do your home state of Texas," Whitman said in her letter to President Bush. "I leave knowing that we have made a positive difference and that we have set the Agency on a course that will result in continued environmental improvement."

Critics of the administration say Whitman's more moderate positions were cast aside the administration and are not surprised to see her step down.

"Christie Whitman must feel like her own long national nightmare is finally over," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. "No EPA administrator has ever been so consistently and publicly humiliated by the White House. She was a loyal soldier for the President for two years, but there is a point when even the most loyal can no longer defend the indefensible."

In her letter to the President, however, Whitman only had praise for the administration and its work at the EPA. She wrote that it "has been a singular honor to be entrusted with the responsibility to lead the EPA in its effort to leave America's air cleaner, its water purer, and its land better protected than it was when this administration took office."

"Our work has been guided by the strong belief that environmental protection and economic prosperity can and must go hand-in-hand, that the true measure of the value of any environmental policy is in the environmental results it produces," Whitman wrote. "I am pleased that the EPA has built an enviable record of success that will result in significant improvements to the state of our nation's treasured environment."

In a statement released today, President Bush called Whitman "a trusted friend and advisor who has worked closely with me to achieve real and meaningful results to improve our environment."

Prior to her tenure as EPA Administrator, Whitman served as the first female governor of New Jersey. In 2001, she resigned her governorship with a year remaining in her second and final term to take the reins at the EPA.

Her nomination and speedy confirmation by the U.S. Senate were greeted with cautious optimism by environmentalists, who hoped the former New Jersey governor could be a moderating force in the conservative Bush administration.

But the March 2001 announcement by Whitman that the administration was withdrawing U.S. support for the Kyoto Protocol compromised the EPA Administrator in the eyes of many environmentalists, and some feel she has done little to temper the administration's determination to rollback environmental protections.

Whitman came to Washington known as "a moderate and was expected to work across party lines to clean our air and water, improve public health, and tackle global warming," said Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut and declared presidential candidate. "Unfortunately, that agenda ran up against a Bush Administration bent on rolling back important environmental protections, opening public lands to the highest bidder, and turning our back on global warming."

"She has not been a steward for the environment as much as she has been a shepherd for the administration," said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for the environmental law firm Earthjustice.

Mulhern cited rollbacks of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and a dramatic drop in Superfund clean ups during Whitman's tenure and said "across the board, program after program, there has been a weakening of standards and a lack of enforcement."

Environmentalists hope that perhaps the Senate will use its influence to press Bush to appoint a moderate as Whitman's successor, but few are holding their breath.

"Whitman was not the force behind the Bush administration's unprecedented assault on our landmark environmental protections, and her resignation is not the solution," said Greg Wetstone, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Whitman occasionally opposed environmental retreats in unsuccessful behind the scenes battles with the White House, but almost never prevailed."

Agency insiders say the list of possible candidates to take over from Whitman includes Florida Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs, former Michigan governor John Engler, and current CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and former paper industry lobbyist Josephine Cooper.

Current EPA Deputy Administrator Linda Fisher, a former top executive for biotech giant Monsanto, could also be under consideration for the job.

Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen, says Whitman's departure "could drop the White House's environmental batting average from merely horrible to off-the-charts abysmal."

"This administration has compiled a horrifying track record, not just ignoring the environment, but aggressively working to undermine decades of laws that protect our air, water, wildlife and land," Schlickeisen said. "Governor Whitman appears to have occasionally bucked the anti environmental tide all around her, but she was never able to blunt the visceral tilt in this White House toward corporate interests above all others."

© 2003 Environment News Service and reprinted with permission

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