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Whitman Resigns

Air Date: Week of

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EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman has tendered her resignation to President Bush. National Journal writer Margie Kriz talks to host Steve Curwood about the move.


   (Photo: EPA)

CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

Christine Todd Whitman will leave her post as Environmental Protection Agency administrator at the end of next month. In her letter of resignation to President Bush, she cited the desire to return to New Jersey, her home, and the state she governed before joining the administration.

Margie Kris covers the environment and energy for the National Journal in Washington, and she joins us now.

Margie, Christine Todd Whitman cites “family reasons” for stepping down now. What’s your take on her announcement and timing?

KRIS: Well, she’s been rumored to be leaving ever since she came, just about. I mean, she seemed to have had one foot out the door most of the time she’s been in that position. She seems to have been unhappy. I don’t think she had the clout she thought she was going to have when she came in. She’s been criticized for her policies in the administration from the Left, and the Right doesn’t like her either. She had hoped to get a position as either commerce secretary or a trade representative, or something like that. Those positions are not opening up.

As I said, I think she had one foot out the door when she came here. I don’t think she really liked the idea of being the fundamental regulator; she liked being in the administration. Now she’s decided it’s time to go.

CURWOOD: Which way do you analyze this? Did she jump or was she pushed?

KRIS: Oh, I think it was a mutual decision. She has been considering this for some time, quite clearly. So I think that it was a moment in time when they were saying, look, either you stay for the whole period of time until the elections are over, or else you leave now, giving us the time to make an appointment and get through that before the elections really kick in.

I also think that she’s not a nitty-gritty policy person. She isn’t as curious or interested in the real detailed information about how environmental policy is made. She’s kind of a governor, “big picture” person.

And I also think that the White House people and some of the conservatives have not been happy that she has been reticent on pushing some of the Bush administration policies.

CURWOOD: What are some of the issues that really were quite difficult for Christine Todd Whitman at the Environmental Protection Agency? Where did she get into trouble?

KRIS: Well, from the very start, there were two things that happened in the first year or so. One was her going overseas and bragging that President Bush was going to regulate carbon dioxide, mostly from coal-fired power plants. And she came back from that trip to Europe and found out that no, indeed, he was not going to. He had decided not to go forward with that proposal.
That made her look rather weak and it made her look like she didn’t have any clout within the administration.

Also, shortly after that, she was working on a regulation that had come to her from the Clinton administration to control the amount of arsenic in drinking water. And she said, well, they’re going a little bit too far on this; they’re regulating it too strictly. I’m going to ease up on that.
And the environmental groups jumped on that and said, you know, Bush wants to allow you to be poisoned with arsenic. And it got to be a bad public relations problem for her and for the administration.

There have also been some more recent issues that have come up about her asking for favored treatment when she is traveling around the country and around the world--wanting certain radio stations on, wanting to be driven by coffee places and favorite bookstores, and being called “Governor” instead of “Administrator.” Some of those things make her look a little bit elitist, as opposed to being kind of this everyman regulator that people at the EPA tend to sort of seek that image.

CURWOOD: Now, as Christine Todd Whitman’s resignation becomes yesterday’s news, let’s look ahead to tomorrow’s news--her replacement. Who do you see on the short list there?

KRIS: You might start with Linda Fisher, who is now the deputy administrator at EPA. Linda was with EPA for years, then became a lobbyist at Monsanto.

The most interesting one is David Strues who is in Florida right now as the chief regulator for environment there, for Jeb Bush. He also has an inside line because he is the brother-in-law of Andy Card, who is chief of staff at the White House. There is Governor John Engler of Michigan who environmentalists are not crazy about his record when he was in place. There is Josephine Cooper. Josephine Cooper is now the lobbyist for the automobile industry, but she had a good reputation when she was at EPA years ago. For all I know-- my prediction is that it is going to be somebody who is not on this list.

CURWOOD: In this administration, does it matter who is in the top spot at the Environmental Protection Agency? Some would say the White House calls most of the shots there.

KRIS: I think you are right about the big picture stuff. It’s coming from the White House. It’s coming from the economic people there, from the Energy Department. But I think on a day-to-day basis, and as far as morale within the agency, it depends a lot on who is the administrator.

And in this department, I think that Whitman has not been as strong. She has not been a great leader. She has not been somebody who has instilled a lot of confidence that she has been able to put forward the best arguments that the EPA staffers can make and really fought for their issues. So, yes, policies are not going to change dramatically, but there might be a subtle underpinning to it that brings some strength to EPA.

CURWOOD: Margie Kris is an environment and energy writer at the National Journal. Thanks for filling us in, Margie.

KRIS: Thank you.



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