Former governor, EPA head wants changes in her party

prev
next

 by Cynthia Price

Legal News
Christine “Christie” Todd Whitman, who is the Republican former governor of New Jersey and was Administrator  of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2001-2003, told West Michiganians last week she would like to see a more moderate, centrist Republican party.
In particular, Whitman sees no inconsistency between being a Republican and working to protect the environment.
Her high-profile resignation from the EPA was prompted by differences with the George W. Bush administration on the roles of science and regulatory initiatives in addressing environmental concerns. For example, there were very public clashes on standards for arsenic in the drinking water, air quality regulations, and many aspects of the climate change issue, including Bush’s curt dismissal of an EPA report on the matter.
In later interviews, Whitman has acknowledged that these conflicts were her main motivation for resigning. She has often called the policies and electoral strategy of the Bush administration “divisive.”
In fact, Whitman has since written a best-selling book called It's My Party, Too: Taking Back the Republican Party... And Bringing the Country Together Again giving her views on how strident partisanship has made for a confrontational atmosphere that is counter-productive and contrary to the public will.
Whitman stated in her press conference that she sees that play out particularly vigorously in the realm of environmental regulation. She said she regularly sees “the environment” pitted against economic development, which she regards as unnecessary and, in fact, completely wrong.
Lots of people present for last Wednesday’s events at Meijer Gardens agree, including the group Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP), whose president Rob Sisson spoke. Sisson, a former mayor of Sturgis MI, has moved on from heading the Michigan REP to becoming the national president.
Lisa Wozniak, Executive Director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV), came in from Ann Arbor to moderate a roundtable with local environmentalists which followed Whitman’s press conference. She indicated that while the Michigan LCV does not make endorsements, the national LCV had come out in favor of Field Reichardt, a moderate Republican candidate for the Second Congressional District seat currently held by Peter Hoekstra.
Indeed, Reichardt is the reason Whitman was here. She travels the country in support of Republican congressional candidates she regards as breaking the extreme-right mold and favoring collaborative bipartisan work to solve real problems. 
The second district includes over 160 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, so the Great Lakes was a hot topic of conversation. Whitman praised local philanthropist Peter Wege for bringing U.S. senators and representatives right to the shores of the lake when he was trying to promote Great Lakes-friendly policies.
Environmentalists at the roundtable asked about non-native invasive species, and Whitman said she supports looking very closely at the Chicago River diversion to see if there is a way to reverse it without damaging commerce. Several other solutions were discussed.
Naturally, the BP oil spill was another topic of great interest. Whitman had served on a board to advise BP on what the company needed to be doing better. “I’m staggered at the discrepancy between the company’s culture at that time and what is going on now. The commitment that I saw then has dis-
appeared — I don’t know where this disconnect suddenly seems to have happened,” she said.
Though she was fairly supportive of the Obama Administration’s stance — “I don’t believe there’s anything more the Federal government can do – they don’t drill wells so appropriately BP is supposed to be the one handling that” — she said she would like to see more Federal assistance with the on-shore consequences as the spill goes on.
She also discussed what she considers  the too-cozy relationship between the Department of Interior Minerals Management Ser-
vice and the regulated companies, indicating that she had been told that nearly 150 permits had been granted in recent years which waived
the Environmental Impact Statement. She said she was anxious to see that practice end, and hopes in that regard the BP disaster will be a “teaching moment.”
Whitman’s current consulting firm works close with the nuclear power industry, which she vigorously supports, but she said that regardless of the source, it is a national security and environmental imperative that the country put in place incentives for development of alternative energy sources.
Whitman is also the founder, with Sen. John Danforth, of the natonal Republican Leadership Council, an advocacy organization supporting more moderate policy stances in the Republican party.