EPA Pick May Find It's Not Easy Being Green ; Governor Whitman Gets a Mixed Grade from Environmentalists, and Her Own Party
Ron Scherer and Alexandra Marks writers of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Hardly anyone is going to mistake New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman for an environmentalist. But, for a Republican, she does have a green tint.
Precisely what shade her policies are will become clearer when, if as expected, she wins approval as President-elect George W. Bush's nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The nation's new environmental chief will have to make tough decisions on everything from how aggressively to prosecute producers of hazardous waste to the implementation of clean air and water rules. Those laws are currently under attack by business interests - many of whom are supporters of President-elect Bush. Two cases being heard by the Supreme Court could severely limit the ability of the EPA to regulate the Clean Air and Water Acts.
Governor Whitman will also have to decide whether to vigorously enforce the Clinton administration's controversial clean-air rules, including regulations announced last week that are designed to drastically cut truck and bus emissions over the next 10 years. "That will be a signal of the EPA's willingness to use its enforcement teeth," says the Sierra Club's Allen Mattison.
One of the first tests of the New Jersey governor's resolve is right next door: whether to force General Electric, under the Superfund law, to pay $460 million to clean up PCBs the company legally dumped in the Hudson River decades ago. GE has vowed to fight the cleanup.
If her New Jersey record is any indication, environmentalists may be disappointed if they expect a tough litigator.
In New Jersey, her emphasis has been on resolving conflicts as amicably as possible. After she became governor in 1994, Whitman delinked state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) funds from its court successes. In the past, its budget came from the fines it levied on polluters. Whitman made funding part of the state budget and steered polluters to settle disputes outside of the courtroom. In the first four years of her administration, there was a 76 percent reduction in new DEP lawsuits.
"We wanted to resolve the problems, instead of seeing them tied up in lengthy and expensive court battles," says Amy Collings, a spokeswoman for the agency. "We wanted to see the money spent on correcting problems instead of going toward fines."
This shift has enraged some environmental groups, which contend that the state has become more polluted since Whitman took office. "Every single environmental group has given her a failing grade on the environment," says John Guinan, an attorney with the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group. …