Whitman defends policies on N.J.

Star-Ledger, July 10, 2002

Critics accuse EPA chief of turning her back on state's environmental needs


WASHINGTON -- Stung by criticism that her policies are hurting her home state, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman yesterday defended her record and insisted she would never turn her back on New Jersey.

Responding to charges by top New Jersey Democrats that she is championing positions that will worsen the state's air, water and
toxic pollution, the former Republican governor called the accusations groundless and politically motivated.

"It is enormously unfair to say I've turned my back on New Jersey," Whitman said. "I live there. I love the state. My children come home
all the time. I have broader responsibilities now, but my personal commitment will always be with the people of New Jersey."

Earlier in the day, Gov. James E. McGreevey, New Jersey Democratic Sens. Robert Torricelli and Jon Corzine, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) and State Environmental Commissioner Bradley Campbell held a Capitol Hill news conference to charge that Whitman policies are undermining the state's environment.

The Democrats said Whitman's stance on toxic waste site cleanups, pollution from out-of-state power plants and ocean dumping represented a stark reversal from the views she held as governor of New Jersey.

"We have an EPA administrator who has been co-opted out of the right positions into roll-back positions on environmental protection for New Jersey citizens," said Corzine.

Pallone said the policies under Whitman's stewardship will have a disproportionately negative impact on New Jersey because of the state's long history of industrial pollution.

"The EPA administrator should be ashamed of herself," said Pallone. "These are issues she championed as governor and now she has done an about-face."

The Democrats pointed to a Bush Administration proposal they said would weaken long-standing air pollution regulations for older power plants and refineries, a recent report from EPA's inspector general saying Superfund cutbacks would halt funding at four hazardous waste sites in New Jersey and reduce financing on five others, and Whitman's move to allow the Navy to dump 55,000 tons of contaminated dredge spoil six miles off the New Jersey coast.

Whitman said the criticism was off base.

"I am very disappointed that leaders of the state who should know better would level charges that are not based on the facts," said Whitman. "I'm afraid this is politics as usual."

Whitman said reforms are needed in the regulation of power plants, and denied the administration's plan would increase pollution. She added the proposal -- which would allow plants to modernize without meeting emissions standards for new plants -- will be subjected to extensive public comment and will not take effect for more than a year.

The former governor also noted the administration has proposed Congress enact a "Clear Skies" initiative, which she said would greatly reduce contaminants and benefit New Jersey.

Whitman denied charges she is abandoning toxic cleanups, saying the administration has kept funding at the same level as the average for the past decade.

"There is no ongoing work stopped at any Superfund site in New Jersey," said Whitman.

She also said the Navy's plan to dump dredge materials in the ocean is currently "on hold" for further review, but that the EPA does not believe the material poses an environmental threat.

McGreevey said Whitman had been involved as governor in negotiations to limit ocean dumping, and called it "unfortunate" that she appears to be reversing that position.

He also insisted there have been stoppages and slowdowns in the cleanup of toxic waste sites in New Jersey. He said this will have serious public health consequences for New Jersey communities.

"The federal government ought to be expediting the pace of the cleanup. It is unfortunate Gov. Whitman has actually removed sites from funding," said McGreevey.

Torricelli said the administration's environmental policies "are doing real damage to people in New Jersey," but he was not as critical of the EPA chief as his colleagues were. He said Whitman is in a "difficult position" trying to balance her own views with other powerful interests.

Whitman quickly rejected Torricelli's conjecture.

"I am not a martyr," said Whitman. "This President has not asked me to do anything that is counter to my principles on these issues."