A contentious period in EPA history came to a close as Administrator Christie Whitman announced on May 21 she would resign from her position effective June 27.
Whitman’s reign at EPA was marked by sharp criticism from virtually all sides. Free-market environmentalists asserted she frequently worked at cross-purposes with the Bush administration and market-based environmental principles, while liberal environmental advocacy groups alleged she too often compromised her beliefs to comport with the Bush policy agenda.
Whitman expressed no regrets upon announcing her resignation. She insisted in a meeting with a small group of reporters that she had “always been on the same page” with President George W. Bush.
Bush expressed his appreciation for Whitman’s service. “Christie Todd has been a dedicated and tireless fighter for new and innovative policies for cleaner air, purer water, and better-protected land,” said Bush.
Outside the Bush administration, reaction to Whitman’s announcement was mixed.
Business as Usual
“She wasn’t our choice,” said Myron Ebell, general counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank. “One thing we liked, though, is that she spent a lot of time on foreign travel, and wasn’t as active an administrator as she might have been.”
“Whitman presided over two years of business as usual at the EPA,” said Jonathan Adler, assistant professor of law at Case Western Reserve University. “The agency continued to promulgate new regulations tightening existing regulatory programs, and made no effort to rethink or reinvent federal environmental policy. As a former governor, one would have thought that Whitman would be more sensitive to the needs and concerns of state and local governments.
“Environmental regulation is excessively centralized,” Adler continued, “and Whitman missed a tremendous opportunity to introduce more flexibility and innovation to environmental policy by decentralizing regulatory programs and giving more authority to the states.”
“We think she did a lot to repair the relationship between EPA and industry,” said Jeffrey Marks, director of air quality for the National Association of Manufacturers. “She tried to replace the traditional command-and-control approach with more of a partnership.”
“Administrator Whitman changed the EPA by developing a more cooperative relationship with the regulated community,” agreed American Chemistry Council President Greg Lebedev. “Administrator Whitman understood that America can protect the environment and the U.S. economy at the same time. President Bush faces a great challenge in finding a similarly capable administrator.”
Toeing the Line
“It’s unfortunate that after the Bush administration picked someone with environmental credentials to head the EPA, she wasn’t given the power to do the job,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.
“We don’t blame her,” said Gregory Wetstone, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, “but she’s been the public face” of many Bush administration environmental policies the NRDC did not support.
“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,” Whitman said.
“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 this land better protected than it was when this administration took office,” she added.
James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].