Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Former Bush EPA Chief to Lobby for Questionable Chemical Company

Christine Todd Whitman, much criticized during her tenure as President Bush's head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is now going to lobby on behalf of a chemical company that has been subject to multiple EPA enforcement actions.

In a way, it's ironic. When Whitman spun for Bush, she was criticized for favoring corporate interests over individual interests, most notably with regard to air quality in Lower Manhattan following the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Both during her term as EPA chief and after leaving her post in 2003, Whitman has talked a good game -- spinning herself as a different kind of Republican. But now, given a chance to follow up on that post-administration promise, Whitman plans to spin ... for a corporate interest.
Whitman's first client is FMC Corp., a chemical company negotiating with the EPA over the cleanup of arsenic-contaminated soil at a factory near Buffalo, N.Y. Joining Whitman at her new firm is her chief of staff at the EPA, Eileen McGinnis, and Jane Kenny, an EPA administrator under Whitman.

Based in Philadelphia, FMC makes chemicals and pesticides around the world, generating revenues of about $2 billion a year. It is responsible for 136 Superfund sites across the country and has been subject to 47 EPA enforcement actions, according to the EPA. During the past seven years, it has spent more than $16.5 million on lobbying, mostly for environmental and Superfund issues, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Eric Schaeffer, who worked under Whitman as director of EPA's office of regulatory enforcement, told the Newark Star-Ledger: "It's discouraging to see top officials move so quickly to the corporate side ... to nip at the heels of rules they just wrote."

***

Why is not surprising that Whitman would lobby on behalf of a chemical company with a questionable past?

Schaeffer, who resigned from his post in 2002, told the Star-Ledger that under Whitman, "there was too much inside corporate access to the EPA."

***

Whitman once suggested Bush was a "progressive" on the environment. But according to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Bush administration oversaw more than 430 major environmental rollbacks.

"This administration has simply stopped enforcing the law—or rewritten the laws to accommodate polluters," Kennedy told Outside magazine during a November, 2004, "debate" with Whitman.

Whitman's response didn't contradict Kennedy's assessment on environmental rollbacks. Instead, she offered this from Bush's industry-friendly playbook: "We need to recognize that, while enforcement is important, we're beginning to get an environmental ethic in this country now. People are expecting good environmental behavior from the major companies."

That comment essentially repeated the Republican spin she gave in a 2003 interview with Gannett News Service. Discussing working with the business community, she said: "It's recognizing that if you let the private sector have a little flexibility in reaching the (clean air and water) goals, they'll probably get there faster."

It's a statement that makes Republican donors happy, but has never been supported by facts. No industry study has agreed with the Bush assessment that industry moves faster when facing voluntary, rather than government standards.

***

No matter how great her prowess as a lobbyist, nothing Whitman does now will compare to the spinning she did after the collapse of the World Trade Center.

On Sept. 18, 2001, Whitman issued this statement:

"Given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C., that their air is safe to breath[e] and their water is safe to drink," Whitman wrote. "We are very encouraged that the results from our monitoring of air quality and drinking water conditions in both New York and near the Pentagon show that the public in these areas is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances."

But according to a 2003 report issued by the EPA's Office of Inspector General, EPA's Response to the World Trade Center Collapse: Challenges, Successes and Areas for Improvement: "(EPA) was not able to make health risk evaluations for exposures in the first couple of days because of the lack of monitoring data. For several pollutants of concern, sampling did not begin until September 16, and in many cases the results were not known until after the September 18 press release was issued."

EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley suggested in a 2003 interview with Lisa Myers of NBC News that the Whitman statements showed more interest in calming financial markets than accurately relating health risks:

MYERS: Was it misleading for EPA to tell the people of New York that their air was safe to breathe when they didn't have all the tests in yet?

TINSLEY: Yes. We think that people rely on EPA to give it accurate, complete information about environmental and human health aspects of its program.

MYERS: Do you have any idea why these press releases were made more optimistic and less cautionary?

TINSLEY: EPA’s chief of staff at the time we did our work (McGinnis) said that her opinion was that it was important to get workers back to work and to have a positive impact on Wall Street. And that was what influenced the collaborative process.

MYERS: So eagerness to get workers back on Wall Street took precedence over giving complete environmental information?

TINSLEY: That would be what I would infer from the information that we received from the EPA employees.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two questions ...

Since the evil environment destroying Republicans are in office, how does that square with the recent air quality reports that show that the quality levels continue to improve. Counterintuitive, no?

In regards to the alleged rollbacks, since jabbs did not define them, I have to assume they included the myriad of regulations President Clinton put in place on his way out the door. If they were the right thing to do then, why were they not done 8 years before? I guess it is inconceivable to you that somebody could have been playing politics.

I assume that all of you had a huge problem with all of the arsenic in the baby bottle ads, since they grossly mistated the facts.

2:39 PM  
Anonymous dilbert said...

You're missing the main point -- Whitman declared the air was healthy, even though she didn't have the data to back that claim up.

And it's not some liberal hogwash -- some green hippie group out of Oregon -- making this claim. It's the EPA's inspector general!

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it laughable that Whitman believes if you leave business alone they will care enough to clean up the environment. Business cares about one thing: the bottom line. They will not implement costly environmental protection measures if the government doesn't make them do it. And I believe it's a fallacy to think businesses would give in to public pressure. What public pressure? Most people do not have knowledge, or do not care, what businesses may or may not be doing to protect the environment. Extreme cases may be the exception, i.e. Love Canal.
Groups like Greenpeace are written off as misinformed, overreactive liberals.
One other concern. Why hasn't Whitman been held accountable for her obviously phooney-baloney statements about Ground Zero? She should be banned from working in any environmental protection capacity ever again.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The inspector general report was the final word on whether the EPA did its job post-9/11.

It found that the EPA did well, with the exception of Whitman's unsubstantiated press statements. If you read the NBC interview transcript, it's pretty clear the inspector general thinks Whitman was pressured by the Bush administration to talk happy.

And maybe that's why Whitman's credibility remains intact. Outside magazine had her represent the Republican view of the environment, and she's popped up on Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, as well as on Fox News and MSNBC. She's an official Republican pundit, for better or worse.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how do you ban someone in that manner....is it regulated?

whitman was plain wrong at the time. and at this point it is a fact. a shame. clearly, pressure and politics played into that situation.

what she does now is irrelevant....she is a civilian.

generally people will act in their own self interest unless there are rules to protect the public against that when the situation calls for it. since people make up corporations (and not just republicans), corporations also act in their self interest. rules are therefore needed to protect the masses, again within reason and when the situation calls for it.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By "ban" I meant that the public should forbid her from working ever again in a capacity where she is in charge of protecting the environment or human health. Private or public sector. After her performance in the aftermath 9-11, whether or not directed by the Bush Administration, would you, for example, entrust her to offer opinions on the subject of a politically-vested chemical plant oozing a strange substance into the stream your kids play in?
I think not.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That client of Whitmans FMC, has contaminated my home town, the one near Buffalo. But the worst part of this story is the local school yard. This school sits on property FMC sold if for $1. They have never completely tested this land, and as of now have no intention of doing so. It sounds like that will be aok with her. A few small attempts were made to replace some surface soil and we should be happy! This poster is not.

2:55 PM  
Blogger David Drake said...

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6:07 PM  

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