Former EPA head, Christine Todd Whitman, says the public can't decide what to think about climate change.


Christine Todd Whitman served as the first female governor of New Jersey from 1994 until her appointment by President Bush in January 2001 to head the Environmental Protection Agency. She resigned in June 2003 after a controversial tenure that included victories for environmentalists, such as regulating off-road diesel engines, as well as set backs, not the least of which was the US withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. She currently runs a political action committee called It’s My Party Too, which advocates for moderate Republican candidates and causes.

You worked with the Bush administration on environmental issues. What do you think of their stance on the environment?
Well, it’s a lot better than people give them credit for, and that’s primarily because they don’t talk about it when they do good things for the environment. From a political perspective, they don’t see much to gain from it, only people who will get upset with them.

What about their disengagement from Kyoto?
The President said very recently that he made a mistake in the way he disengaged by not saying at the time that, while the protocol was fatally flawed, the process was an important one and the issue is real.

What should be done to start combating global warming?
Surprisingly enough—through the voluntary programs—we are doing quite a bit, but I think we need to have a cap on carbon at some point. I have been predicting that within five years there will be legislation setting a cap out in the future and giving businesses and utilities some time to get there.

Could those kinds of measures come too late?
Well, we’re already seeing progress being made. I’d love to see it sooner rather than later, but it doesn’t make sense to completely change the economy. We need to understand that taking action in and of itself is important, and that’s beginning to happen.

Do you think the public is responsive to environmental issues?
Oh, not as much as you’d like them to be. It’s starting now to penetrate, but people are confused. When you have Michael Moore and that movie The Day After Tomorrow and then you have Michael Crichton and State of Fear on the other, I think people throw up their hands and say, “This is way too complicated for me. I don’t understand.”

But hasn’t the administration exacerbated that confusion by silencing the scientific voices that could fill in that middle ground?
Well, they certainly haven’t heightened the public’s awareness of the issue, and that’s really what they need to be doing. You need to be honest in sharing information with people. The President’s made a couple of speeches along those lines, but it hasn’t been a concerted effort.

What sort of things are you doing to help the environment?
I’m working very actively with my business—it works with companies and utilities to enhance their environmental profile. I’m also going to be working with a coalition that will allow us to look to the new generation of nuclear energy.

Do you think public confusion is the biggest detriment to progress on the environment?
We need public engagement, and I was very pleased to see evangelicals leaders come out recently in favor of government action to protect the environment. We need to have the public understand their role, and that’s why Earth Day celebrations are so important.

What are your plans for Earth day?
Oh Lord, at this point, I don’t know. I don’t have my long range schedule in front of me, but I’m sure I’m doing something because I have for just about every [other] Earth Day.

Originally published April 21, 2006


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