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Context of 'September 14, 2001: EPA Administrator Says WTC Smoke Just an ‘Irritant’'

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An angry and embarrassed Christine Todd Whitman, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), storms into a breakfast meeting with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, waving a letter signed by four Republican senators—Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Larry Craig (R-ID), Jesse Helms (R-NC), and Pat Roberts (R-KS). The letter says that President Bush will soon withdraw the US from the Kyoto Accords (see March 27, 2001), even though Whitman has been telling the press Bush is committed to a “multipollutant” strategy of reducing CO2 and other emissions. Worse, Bush is going to renege on his promise to reduce C02 emissions (see September 29, 2000). O’Neill, who is until now unaware of the backchannel discussions about the administration’s environmental policy, is suspicious of the tone and language of the letter, which was faxed from Hagel’s office two days before. It sounds, he later writes, as if it came “right out of Dick Cheney’s mouth” (see March 1, 2001). O’Neill will later learn that Hagel and Cheney had been working for days to reverse Bush’s course on carbon dioxide caps, and in the process undermine Whitman (see March 8, 2001 and March 13, 2001). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 19-20]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Christine Todd Whitman, Chuck Hagel, Environmental Protection Agency, Larry Craig, Paul O’Neill, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jesse Helms, Pat Roberts

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Disturbed by President Bush’s impending reversal of his pledge to cap carbon dioxide emissions (see September 29, 2000), Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman meets with Bush to attempt to change his mind. But Bush cuts her off: “Christine, I’ve already made my decision.” He says he has written a letter to Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE—see March 13, 2001). Notably, as Whitman is leaving the Oval Office, she sees Vice President Cheney pick up the letter to Hagel from a secretary (see March 8, 2001). That same day, Cheney meets with Hagel and then addresses the Senate Republican Conference, announcing to that body that the administration no longer supports carbon dioxide caps. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill later calls Cheney’s actions “a clean kill,” reminiscent of the bureaucratic manipulations Cheney had become so good at during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein sum up Cheney’s modus operandi: “No fingerprints. No accountability. Cheney collaborated with four senators who were working against White House policy, then persuaded the president to join them.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 20]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Christine Todd Whitman, Chuck Hagel, Jake Bernstein, Environmental Protection Agency, Paul O’Neill, Lou Dubose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman is quoted by Newsweek saying that the smoke plume at the World Trade Center disaster site is “not a health problem.” She says, “We have found particulate matter in the air, but other than being an irritant to those people who are out there breathing it deeply—that’s why people are wearing protective gear and masks—it is not a problem for the general population.” [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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