Environmentalists hopeful, wary on Whitman appointment
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President-elect George W. Bush's nomination of New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency was looked upon favorably, if warily, by environmentalists.
"I think we're going to be able to work with her," said Debbie Sease of the Sierra Club. "But there are parts of her record that give us concern."
Whitman made drastic cuts in the budget and staff of the state office responsible for enforcing environmental laws, Sease said.
"She's a good choice," said Natural Resources Defense Council spokesman Elliott Negin. "She has a pretty good record on sprawl issues, on land management issues, on some water issues."
Not in environmentalists' favor, he said, was her record on enforcement, which he called "spotty."
"She's someone we can work with," said NRDC Director Greg Wetstone.
The fact that Bush has exalted the position to a cabinet level job is a good sign, but not assurance, he said.
Three things must take place for Whitman to succeed in her job, according to Wetstone. "First off, the White House and OMB [Office of Management and Budget] have to let her do her job. If we look at the senior Bush administration, they brought in a very good administrator in Bill Reilly, but White House and OMB intervened and wouldn't let him carry out the Clean Air Act."
Second, he said, "Congress has got to be kept under control so they do not intervene to prevent the agency from doing their job."
In the past six years, 70 riders have been attached to budget bills, "each of which would work to undermine enforcement of particular aspects of environmental programs that go across the board," Wetstone said.
Had President Clinton not opposed those measures, they would have hamstrung EPA's ability to enforce its laws, he said. "All without public vote or debate or hearings in Congress. It's going to be very important for George W. Bush to step forward and say, 'I'm going to oppose riders tacked onto budget bills.'"
But Bush's own record on the environment has come under fire from environmentalists, who criticized his plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and note that the smog in Houston is now worse than it is in Los Angeles.
Finally, Whitman's ability to do her job will depend, in large part, on the agency's subcabinet- level appointees. "People who run these programs at EPA have got to be people who share the mission of this agency and their programs. If not, then she'll be little more than a figurehead," Wetstone said.
Whitman grew up and still lives on a farm, where she has developed "respect for the balance that nature brings to the land," she said Friday.
That was also where she "learned the importance that everyone on the farm pitches in to do their share and then some."
She said that, as EPA administrator, she would apply the same lesson. "I intend to do my share and then some to meet the challenge."