Profile: Christine Todd Whitman
Positions that Christine Todd Whitman has held:
Christine Todd Whitman was a participant or observer in the following events:
Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman announces that her state has joined the federal government’s lawsuits (see November 3, 1999) against several mid-west and southeast utility companies for allegedly releasing tens of millions of illegal emissions in violation of the New Source Review section of the Clean Air Act. Governor Whitman says: “We’ve done much here in New Jersey to ensure that our residents can breathe clean air. All of our efforts are fruitless, however, if New Jerseyans must breathe the dirty air coming into our state from mid-west coal-burning power plants. This legal action will require that these power plants clean up their emissions and stop polluting our air.” [New Jersey, 12/3/1999; Reuters, 12/6/1999]
President George Bush, following the lead of Vice President Dick Cheney, prepares to renege on his campaign promise to cap carbon dioxide emissions (see September 29, 2000, March 8, 2001, and March 13, 2001). The promise is later described by authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein as “the environmental centerpiece of [his] presidential campaign.” Christine Todd Whitman, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, later says on CNN, “George Bush was very clear during the course of the campaign that he believed in a multipollutant strategy, and that includes CO2.” Initially, Bush stood by his pledge even as House Republicans Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Joe Barton (R-TX) attacked it as being bad for business. But on March 1, Cheney receives a personal note from energy lobbyist and veteran Republican operative Haley Barbour, headed “Regarding Cheney Energy Policy & Co.” The note reads in part: “A moment of truth is arriving in the form of a decision whether this administration’s policy will be to regulate and/or tax CO2 as a pollutant.… Demurring on the issue of whether the CO2 idea is eco-extremism, we must ask, do environmental initiatives, which would greatly exacerbate the energy problems, trump good energy policy, which the country has lacked for eight years?” Cheney moves quickly to respond to Barbour’s concerns. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 19]
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]
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]
EPA administrator Christie Todd Whitman tells reporters that the Bush administration has “no interest in implementing” the Kyoto Protocol. [BBC, 3/28/2001; Associated Press, 3/28/2001; Environmental News Network, 3/28/2001; CBS News, 3/28/2001; CNN, 3/29/2001] The treaty would require 39 industrialized nations to cut emissions of six greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride—to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. The US would be required to reduce its emissions by about 7 percent. The protocol will not go into effect until it has been ratified by countries that were responsible for at least 55 percent of the world’s carbon emissions in 1990. [BBC, 3/29/2001; BBC, 9/29/2001] The United States is the world’s largest polluter and therefore its refusal to support the treaty represents a significant setback. In 1990, the US was responsible for 36.1 percent of greenhouse emissions. [BBC, 6/4/2004] The Bush administration complains that the treaty would harm US economic interests and that it unfairly puts too much of the burden on industrialized nations while not seeking to limit pollution from developing nations. [BBC, 3/29/2001]
EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman tells the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee that she doesn’t know of any proposal to drop the government’s New Source Review (NSR)lawsuits against utility and energy companies. Her statement is in response to a question from Senator Hillary Clinton who noted that there were reports (see After January 22, 2001) of an internal White House debate over the suits. [US Congress, 5/15/2001, pp. 31-32 ; Reuters, 5/15/2001] In 1999, the EPA had accused the companies of illegally releasing tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in violation of the NSR section of the Clean Air Act (see November 3, 1999).
Testifying before a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, EPA administrator Christine Whitman names several Clean Air Act programs that the Bush administration is considering terminating. One of the programs slated for elimination is the New Source Review, which requires power companies to install state-of-the-art pollution controls whenever they build new plants or add additional capacity to existing ones. [US Congress, 7/26/2001, pp. 104]
The Bush administration blocks the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from making any announcement about vermiculite and related problems in towns where it was mined. Vermiculite is dangerous because one of the substances it contains, tremolite, itself contains lethal levels of asbestos fiber and has killed or seriously sickened thousands of inhabitants of Libby, Montana, one of the towns where it was mined. EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman visits Libby at this time, although the vermiculite mine there was shut down in 1990. However, the problem is not confined to Libby; according to EPA records, over 16 billion tons of vermiculite have been shipped to 750 fertilizer and insulation manufacturers throughout the US, and the EPA estimates that between 15 million and 35 million US homes have been insulated with this toxic material. The EPA is thus confronted with an enormously grave problem. After the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks the story in late 2002 based on a leak from an unnamed whistleblower, former EPA chief William Ruckelshaus calls the actions of the White House “wrong, unconscionable.” The story becomes even more important when the reason for the White House block becomes known. Vice President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, is pressuring Congress to pass legislation that would absolve companies of any legal liability for claims arising from asbestos exposure. Halliburton itself is facing a tremendous number of asbestos liability claims. [Dean, 2004, pp. 162-163]
EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman tells residents at a town hall meeting in Libby, Montana, a designated Superfund Site where the EPA is remedying asbestos contamination (see (August 2001)), “It has never been our plan to look to you to pay for any part of this cleanup, including the cleanup of residential properties.” [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/7/2001]
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announces that the EPA is monitoring levels of airborne contaminants in and around the area of Manhattan. She says that samples so far are “reassuring about potential exposure of rescue crews and the public to environmental contaminants.” The tests “found either no asbestos or very low levels of asbestos.” In Brooklyn, which is directly in the WTC smoke plume’s path (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), she says that “levels of lead, asbestos and volatile organic compounds in air samples… were not detectable or not of concern.” [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/13/2001] However, her statements contradict results from transmission electron microscopy (TEM) tests that were conducted the previous day (see (September 12, 2001)).
EPA administrator Christie Whitman recommends that New Yorkers who evacuated their homes after the collapse of the World Trade Center “vacuum everything, including air conditioning filters, and wipe all surfaces with a damp cloth,” Newsweek reports. [Newsweek, 9/14/2001; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 ] The recommendation is made despite two studies completed for the EPA in 1993 demonstrating that HEPA vacuums do not effectively remove asbestos from carpets and upholstery (see 1993) and that vacuuming actually increases asbestos levels in the air during use (see 1993).
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 ]
EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman says with regard to Manhattan’s air quality, “[T]here is no reason for concern.” She says that her agency is regularly sampling airborne particles and that findings indicate that most locations have an asbestos level of less than one percent—the amount above which the EPA considers a material to be “asbestos-containing”—but notes that the highest recorded reading so far was 4.5 percent (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. September 11, 2001)). [Newsday, 9/16/2001] But the EPA is wrong to use the one percent level as if it were a safety benchmark (see (September 12, 2001)). Furthermore, its test results are not accurate, as they are based on the outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method which is incapable of identifying fine fibers and which cannot reliably detect asbestos when it is present in concentrations below one percent (see November 20, 1990).
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announces that results from further air and drinking water monitoring near the WTC site and the Pentagon indicate that there are few significant risks to public health. “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,” she says. “Most” of the 62 dust samples taken by the agency contained less than one percent of asbestos. [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/18/2001] The EPA incorrectly uses the one percent level of ambient asbestos as if it were a safety benchmark (see (September 12, 2001)). Moreover, the test results Whitman cites are based on the less sensitive and outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method which is incapable of identifying ultra-fine asbestos fibers and which cannot reliably detect asbestos when present in concentrations below one percent (see November 20, 1990). Whitman’s statement also observes that where asbestos levels have exceeded the EPA’s one percent “level of concern,” the “EPA has operated its 10 High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) vacuum trucks to clean the area and then resample.” She adds that the trucks have also cleaned the “streets and sidewalks in the Financial District in preparation for… return to business.” [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/18/2001] However, it is later discovered that the contractor hired to clean the streets failed to equip the vacuum trucks with the required HEPA filters. [New York Daily News, 8/14/2002; Kupferman, 2003 ]
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman assures New Yorkers that environmental conditions in Manhattan—both inside and outside—are safe, and provides a summary of the tests that have so far been performed on the city’s air and drinking water.
Water - Whitman says: “As we continue to monitor drinking water in and around New York City, and as EPA gets more comprehensive analysis of this monitoring data, I am relieved to be able to reassure New York and New Jersey residents that a host of potential contaminants are either not detectable or are below the Agency’s concern levels. Results we have just received on drinking water quality show that not only is asbestos not detectable, but also we can not detect any bacterial contamination, PCBs or pesticides.” She does say however that “following one rainstorm with particularly high runoff, we did have one isolated detection of slightly elevated levels of PCBs (see September 14, 2001).”
Outdoor air - Whitman says that outdoor air sampling does not indicate the existence of significant public health risks. This claim is based on results obtained using the outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method (see September 12, 2001) which is incapable of identifying ultra-fine fibers and which cannot reliably detect asbestos when present in concentrations below one percent (see November 20, 1990). Even though Whitman denies a significant risk to public health, she does say “seven samples taken at or near Ground Zero have had marginally higher levels of asbestos that exceed EPA’s level of concern,” and that her agency has “done a total of 101 dust samples, of which 37 were slightly over the one percent asbestos.” Whitman does not mention that the EPA’s “level of concern” is not a safety benchmark (see (September 12, 2001)) but rather the detection limit of the polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method (see November 20, 1990).
Indoor air - Whitman claims, “New Yorkers and New Jerseyans need not be concerned about environmental issues as they return to their homes and workplaces.” But the EPA has no data indicating that indoor air is actually safe. The only indoor tests that have been conducted by the EPA were in the EPA’s Region 2 offices located in the Federal Building and a few neighboring buildings—and the results from several of these tests were positive for chrysotile asbestos (see September 13, 2001-September 19, 2001). [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/21/2001; Office of US Congressman Jerrold Nadler, 4/12/2002 ]
National Ombudsman Robert Martin sends a memorandum to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman suggesting that the agency implement the recommendations in the General Accounting Office’s July 2001 report (see July 27, 2001). He advises against a proposal under consideration that would move his office to the Office of Inspector General (OIG). He argues that doing so would not increase the ombudsman’s independence and notes that the ombudsman’s mission is very different than the OIG’s. [Environmental Protection Agency, 11/26/2001 ; US Congress, 6/25/2002]
EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and John Henshaw, US Department of Labor Assistant Secretary for OSHA, announce that their two agencies “have found no evidence of any significant public health hazard to residents, visitors or workers beyond the immediate World Trade Center area.” But later in the statement, they acknowledge that to date, “Of 177 bulk dust and debris samples collected by EPA and OSHA and analyzed for asbestos, 48 had levels over 1 percent, the level EPA and OSHA use to define asbestos-containing material.” Additionally, they say that out “of a total of 442 air samples EPA has taken at Ground Zero and in the immediate area, only 27 had levels of asbestos above the standard EPA uses to determine if children can re-enter a school after asbestos has been removed….” [Environmental Protection Agency, 10/3/2001]
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman continues to reassure the public regarding environmental conditions in Lower Manhattan and says: “Those of us in government and the media share an obligation to provide members of the public, in a responsible and calm manner, with the information they need to protect themselves and their families from any environmental hazards that may result from the attacks on the World Trade Center.” [New York Daily News, 10/31/2001]
EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman announces that the National Ombudsman Office will be relocated to the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) and that control of all National Ombudsman cases will be likewise transferred to the OIG. She claims the change “will give the ombudsman more independence and the impartiality necessary to conduct credible inquiries.” [Environmental Protection Agency, 11/27/2001] The planned change would give the EPA OIG authority to exercise editorial control over the ombudsman’s comments if they concern criminal investigations. [Associated Press, 4/8/2002] Additionally, under the plan the EPA OIG would decide which cases are investigated. Decisions regarding budgets and staff would also be handled by the OIG. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/23/2002] Ombudsman Robert Martin vehemently objects to the plan, telling The Washington Post in an interview that putting his office under the OIG would effectively dissolve the national ombudsman function at the EPA. “I translate that as the IG is taking over my cases. They’re going to review and determine whether complaints citizens have made have merit,” Martin explains. “They’re going to be doing my job.” [Washington Post, 11/29/2001; Associated Press, 4/8/2002]
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, appearing before Congress, states: “Under the provisions of PDD 62, signed by President Clinton in 1998, the EPA is assigned lead responsibility for cleaning up buildings and other sites contaminated by chemical or biological agents as a result of an act of terrorism. This responsibility draws on our decades of experience in cleaning up sites contaminated by toxins through prior practices or accidents.” Her deputy, Linda Fisher, will repeat this to Congress a week later (see December 5, 2001). [US Congress, 4/12/2002]
Environmental Protection Agency ombudsman Robert Martin writes to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman criticizing her decision (see September 28, 2001) to transfer his office to the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Martin challenges her assertion that this would result in greater autonomy, noting that the IOG had previously “interfered with [a]… National Ombudsman investigation” of the Marjol Batter Site. [Environmental Protection Agency, 11/26/2001 ]
Eighteen United States Congressional representatives write to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman requesting that she refrain from transferring the National Ombudsman’s office to the EPA’s Inspector General until after Congressional hearings on the issue have been held in early 2002. Nine additional Congressional representatives write to Whitman on December 19 (see December 7, 2001). [US Congress, 6/25/2002]
Nine US Congressional representatives write to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman asking that she refrain from transferring the National Ombudsman office. Eighteen Congressional representatives have already submitted the same request to Whitman (see Afternoon November 27, 2001). [US Congress, 6/25/2002]
EPA National Ombudsman Robert Martin and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) file a lawsuit challenging EPA Administrator Christie Whitman’s plan to relocate the ombudsman’s office to the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) (see Morning November 27, 2001). [Associated Press, 1/10/2002]
US Federal District Court Judge Richard W. Roberts issues a temporary restraining order preventing EPA Administrator Christie Whitman from implementing a plan (see Morning November 27, 2001) to transfer the ombudsman’s office and investigative files to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The restraining order will expire in early April (see April 6, 2002). [Salon, 1/14/2002; US Congress, 6/25/2002]
US District Judge Richard W. Roberts vacates a temporary restraining order (see January 11, 2002) against the EPA, which had prevented the agency from transferring the function of the EPA’s national ombudsman to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) (see Morning November 27, 2001). The case is referred to the United States Office of Special Counsel. Within hours, EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman and the EPA Office of Inspector General move to implement the planned changes (see Morning November 27, 2001) to the EPA National Ombudsman office. [US Congress, 6/25/2002]
On Earth Day, Robert Martin resigns from his position as the EPA national ombudsman in protest of the EPA’s decision to curb his autonomy by placing his office under the jurisdiction of the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG). Martin believes EPA administrator Christie Todd Whitman’s decision to relocate jurisdiction of the office was caused by Martin’s criticisms (and those of his chief investigator, Hugh Kaufman) of her potential conflicts of interest in respect to a Denver Superfund Site, the Marjol Battery site in Throop, PA, and his criticism of the EPA’s response to environmental consequences following the World Trade Center attack in Lower Manhattan. In his letter of resignation, Martin accuses the EPA of concealing data regarding WTC toxic substances from residents, workers, and students in Lower Manhattan. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/23/2002; US Congress, 6/25/2002]
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