Charles Nailen/The Hoya Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former N.J. Governor Christine Todd Whitman speaks in Riggs Library Monday evening.

Christine Todd Whitman, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former governor of New Jersey, spoke about the Bush presidential administration’s current environmental policies to a standing-room only crowd in Riggs Hall Monday evening. Whitman was the first woman to serve as governor in New Jersey and was the first candidate in the state’s history to unseat an incumbent when she won election in 1993. Re-elected in 1996, Whitman said that preservation and conservation of the environment remained a top priority during her two terms as governor. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Whitman to be Administrator of the EPA.

“When I came to the agency, what the President asked me to do and what I have worked to do is to ensure that our air is cleaner, our water is purer and our land is better protected than before the current administration took office,” she said.

She elaborated on the President’s environmental record, promoting the President’s proposed Clear Skies Initiative, which would be the most “comprehensive enhancement” of the Clean Air Act, she said.

“It would require mandatory reductions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and mercury,” Whitman said. “If we get the Clear Skies Initiative through, we will have done more to improve the air quality than anything else in the air program.”

Whitman also discussed the President’s policy for improving the Clean Water Act, which has decreased water pollution by targeting point sources, such as discharge pipes that pollute streams, rivers and oceans.

“Now, however, we have to work to eliminate non-point sources, such as irrigation from fields that drain into rivers,” she said. “The Watershed Training Program will work to eliminate non-source point pollution by increasing awareness about runoff and other ways in which water is polluted.”

Whitman also explained the Brownfields legislation passed by Congress last year by a unanimous 99-0 vote. The legislation, funded by Superfund, helps third parties redevelop sites in communities that are polluted or perceived to be polluted, she said.

“Nobody will redevelop these sites because they are afraid of the liability [of developing] the site. Brownfields legislation provides liability protection for third parties that are willing to come in and develop and cleanup these facilities,” she said. “We are seeing a real difference in communities across this country because of the passage of this bill.”

Whitman detailed the EPA’s stance on land-use policies. “We don’t want to become the nation’s planning board,” she said. While she reaffirmed the EPA’s commitment to ensuring wise land-use policies, she maintained that the EPA should “leave the necessary tools and resources to local municipalities so that they can take care of the job.”

Whitman confirmed the President’s commitment to deal with global warming despite its decision not to support the Kyoto Protocol. “The U.S. is very involved in reducing harmful emissions. The President has allocated $400 million more for climate change research, which brings the administration’s total spending to $1.5 billion for research and new technologies to reduce emissions,” she said. “We need to spend money, but we need to be sure to do it in the right places.”

Whitman said that the President’s environmental record has been unfairly misconstrued. “If you took your understanding of the administration’s policies on the environment strictly from the newspapers, you would think we were pretty bad at doing that,” she said. “If you’d read the newspapers, you’d think that we weren’t working in that way at all. Instead, we were hell bent on making sure that we destroy any progress that’s been made.”

Whitman said that innovative policies such as the Clear Skies Initiative, Watershed Training Program and Brownfields legislation demonstrated the Bush administration’s commitment to cleaner air, purer water and better-protected land. “This is the kind of non-traditional thinking that is going to make a difference.”

Nonetheless, Whitman said that economic concerns must be considered with environmental policies. “We are committed to proving that we can have a robust economy at the same time that we have a healthy and clean environment. We all have to live in this environment and we all have to breathe the air, drink the water and live on the land. We are all vested in having a cleaner and healthier environment now and for future generations,” she said. “But we also want jobs. We all want to be able to support families and we want to ensure the lifestyles that we have.”

“We are committed to ensuring that we apply common sense,” she said. “And that’s where the challenge comes because the environment is something that many people are very concerned about. Our challenge is to break the feeling that the environment is a zero-sum game, where somebody has to lose in order for somebody to win.”

Whitman’s speech was sponsored by the Georgetown College Republicans.

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