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Former EPA head addresses environmental issues

John Tierney | Thursday, February 8, 2007

While the environment is in better shape than it was 50 years ago, there is still work to be done, former Environment Protection Agency Administrator and one-time New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman said Wednesday during her “Shaping the Future: America’s Environment Today” lecture.

Whitman, a republican who served for two years in he Bush White House, stressed the importance of market-based solutions to the environmental crises of greenhouse gas and fossil fuel emissions.

“What is good environmental stewardship is also good for business,” she said. “We don’t have to make a choice between having a healthy environment and a thriving economy.”

Although the modern environmental movement began in the 1970s with the federal government mandating stricter emission standards against the wishes of business leaders, the roles have changed.

“Today, the responsible leaders of American businesses are objecting that the federal government is not taking mandatory actions,” she said. “It’s a natural progress in most responsible leaders that they are more concerned with the environment.”

While the Bush administration has enacted voluntary environmental reform programs, Whitman said these initiatives do not go far enough to help cure the challenges the world faces.

Although she hailed voluntary governmental programs such as Energy Star and Climate Leaders, Whitman said more federal action is essential.

“A mandatory carbon cap is necessary and probable within the next five years,” she said.

Whitman advocated a solution to the environmental crisis that requires businesses to meet certain standards, but allows them to meet these standards in a way that is profitable to the company. As part of this so-called “cap-and-trade” system – similar to the system employed to reduce acid rain – the government would set target to be reached, but companies have to decide how to reach them in accord with their own best interests.

When companies are unable to reach the mandatory targets, they are able to buy emission capabilities from companies that have not surpassed the regulations. The cap-and-trade system is most effective because “the government is not innovative, but the private sector is,” Whitman said.

Whitman said environmental responsibility will not limit economic and industrial growth.

“Businesses can protect the environment in a way that enhances their bottom line and doesn’t limit their growth,” she said.

“We need to make it profitable for businesses to do the right thing for the environment. I don’t care about their motives if they’re doing the right thing,” Whitman said.

Whitman said the White House did not manipulate climate change scientific evidence during her two years at the EPA, but she believes that policy dictates the results of scientific investigation at the federal level.

“When the science goes against what certain people want, it just gets dropped from the report,” she said.

“They need to let science be what it is.

“The policy doesn’t always have to be based on just the science, but they need to let the science be the science.”

In her fight for environmental responsibility, Whitman said she does not hold others to a higher standard than she holds herself. The former governor drives a Toyota Prius, which – according to Car and Driver – averages 60 miles per gallon in city driving conditions.

“I love my Prius, but we’re not going to change what cars people drive right away,” she said.

Whitman served as the first female governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001. She left the governorship to become administrator of the EPA during the Bush administration in January of 2001 – a post she held until June of 2003.

Whitman serves as the president of The Whitman Strategy Group, a consulting firm specializing in the environment and governmental bipartisanship. She is also the leader of the “It’s My Party Too-Political Action Committee,” which works to elect moderate Republican candidates.