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Interview: Christine Todd Whitman

The Monitor talks with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency

March 26, 2002

On March 13, 2002, the Monitor's Francine Kiefer interviewed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman in her Washington office. The transcript follows.

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MONITOR: I thought since you had just gone through two weeks of hearings that this would be a good chance to stop and look at your role here. I gave them (your press aides) a heads up that I wouldn't delve too deeply into policy because that's everywhere – that's what all the hearings are about, so I'd like to ask you a little bit more about your role in the administration and how that's been going.

A year ago or so the popular line in the media was that you weren't in control and you were a pushover, and all of those not too complimentary terms, but that now you're viewed as a lot stronger, a lot more experienced in the job, but still a lone voice of conscience within the administration. And I wonder how you view that, if you could describe your evolving clout in the administration.

WHITMAN: First of all, I didn't pay much attention to the stories back then, because they were based on some inaccurate premises, i.e. arsenic, that that was somehow the White House made me do it. No. The White House pushed back when I said I wanted to do it. It's the one place where they did push back, and say, "Do you really want to do this?" My relationship and role with the White House has been what I expected it to be having been a governor and having had a cabinet of my own.

And yeah, it took us a while, because we had the Card memo out–a whole bunch of regulations. That's what we do. We're a regulatory agency. We have more regulations than any other department or agency I think out there to review. So we were scrambling. And we didn't have the team on board.

MONITOR: By the Card memo you meant the review of all regulations (ordered by White House chief of staff Andrew Card)?

WHITMAN: The review of all regulations that were pending. And we just had a slew of them. Getting up to snuff on each one of those, we were reacting for those first six months because we didn't have our full team in place to begin with, and we had so many of these that had enormous impact. I mean, anytime we put out a regulation there, we're requiring someone to spend millions of dollars or change the way they do things, and that has lots of consequences. So yeah, we weren't as smooth an operation as I would have liked us to have been, but, and now we do have the team on board, and now we've dealt with all but two or three of what were pending regulations and those don't have any time frame around them so we're OK. The rest of them...there were court dates that required that we move when we moved. It was a scramble.

So now yeah, we are in sort of a more reasoned, more controlled approach to what we're doing. We're able to put together our priorities. We were able to get brownfields through (legislation to clean up abandoned urban industrial sites), we've gotten the clean skies proposal (a proposal to reduce three serious pollutants by 70 percent), we did all the analysis on that and that took a long time. We got that out there.

MONITOR: But could you speak to the point about being alone in the administration? (Democratic Senator Joseph) Lieberman's view of being the lone voice in the wilderness so to speak.

WHITMAN: That's way overblown. Obviously I am the primary spokesperson for the environment, because I'm the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, just as Spence (Abraham, secretary of the Department of Energy) is the spokesperson for energy because his responsibility is to ensure that there is a continuous, affordable supply of energy in the country. That means that we will perhaps, we do come at issues from slightly different frames of reference, but it doesn't mean that he's anti-environment or that I'm anti-energy. It just simply means that we have different assumptions probably that are behind some of the work that's done and then we have things that we need to work out, as how do we make the policies work for everybody.