Ex-EPA Chief Criticizes Scott Pruitt, Trump's Choice To Head The Agency
Ex-EPA Chief Criticizes Scott Pruitt, Trump's Choice To Head The Agency
David Greene talks to Christine Todd Whitman, who led the EPA in the George W. Bush administration. Whitman is concerned about Trump's pick for the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
However you voted in the presidential election, give this much credit to President-elect Trump - hardly any of his cabinet choices so far qualify as boring.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Some come from unusual backgrounds. Others appear to radically disagree with the approaches of the agencies they're being appointed to lead.
INSKEEP: The choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency is a man who previously sued it. Scott Pruitt is the attorney general of Oklahoma, a state rich in oil and gas.
MARTIN: He's sided with his state's oil and gas industry against environmental regulations. That is, in a way, a classic Republican stance.
INSKEEP: But a past Republican administrator of the EPA has some doubts. Christine Todd Whitman led the EPA under President George W. Bush. And she spoke with our colleague, David Greene.
DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Governor Whitman, thanks for taking the time to join us. We appreciate it.
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: Oh, it's good to be with you.
GREENE: So what worries you about Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump's pick to lead the EPA?
WHITMAN: Well, his seeming disdain for the people at the agency, for science. And he seems to have a level of distrust that is unusual coming into an agency because it doesn't necessarily bode well for good relations with the career staff that are there, with whom you have to work and you need to get things done. He is very definitely a denier of climate change, something that scientists, by and large, overwhelmingly, say is occurring and that humans have a role to play in that. He also seems to be someone who doesn't believe in regulation. And that's a time where you want to say regulations are prevention. They're trying to protect us.
GREENE: You know, you and others have called him a climate change denier. But, you know, my colleagues at NPR who report on science have looked very hard to find if there's been an explicit time when he has said that. Do you know of a time when he's actually denied climate change?
WHITMAN: Well, it's been more in action. It's a little bit like Donald Trump. I mean, do you believe what he says or what he does? He says he wants to talk about climate change. But the people he appoints are people who have, time and again, sued the agency or said things that would indicate that they really don't believe that climate change is a serious issue. It's concerning.
GREENE: Governor Whitman, I had a conversation with Republican Senator Rand Paul this week from Kentucky. I just want to play a little bit of tape here. This is Senator Paul talking about rules that required farmers to get permitting for things they were doing on their property.
RAND PAUL: You should not have to get a federal permit to build a cattle pond. This is the kind of thing that has kind of run amok in our country. It's the federal government trying to regulate individual, local issues like land use.
GREENE: Is that a fair point that the senator's making?
WHITMAN: The waters of the Americas are a very contentious thing. And I do believe there are times when the agency overreaches. On the other hand, if it's a cattle pond that runs into a major water source which is then handled by utility downstream to provide water for drinking, then you've got an issue because they're going to have to spend more money for that. The rancher upstream doesn't see it as their problem because their water is fine. But for people downstream, it is a problem. And that's where you run into this very contentious area of how do you protect?
GREENE: What is your advice to Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt, I mean, when it comes to fulfilling Donald Trump's pledge to reduce the number of regulations, but making sure that the environment is protected in a way that you would feel comfortable with?
WHITMAN: One of the real problems is that every department and agency has divided the country into regions. Some have 11. Some have 10. And the regions tend to be relatively autonomous and interpret things in their own way. And that can be problematic for a company that has to do business in several states. And they may find themselves at odds with region 2 when they're not in region 10. There needs to be clarification. There can certainly be a reduction in regulations. But the key is to not throw out the baby with the bathwater - to understand what is important to protect human health and the environment and what's just an overreach of being super cautious.
GREENE: I want to ask you about this questionnaire that has made some news, the Trump transition team circulating a questionnaire in the Department of Energy. Part of it is asking for the names of people who have worked on climate issues and have gone to conferences. What's your reaction to that?
WHITMAN: If I were a federal employee, I'd be very nervous about it. Why? Why would you need to know that? If they are a career civil servant that's carrying out the policies of the incumbent administration, why do you need to know that they've been good civil servants for this one issue? It implies that since this is not going to be your policy, you're going to assume that that's what they're going to do no matter what. And they're going to try to undercut you. And therefore, you're going to try to get back at them - some kind of retribution.
GREENE: I guess I - on this questionnaire, I guess I just wonder if, you know, when you were running the EPA, wouldn't you have wanted to know what work was being done by scientists? Might you have, you know, said, like, let me put a questionnaire out there? I want to know what people have been working on. I want to know, you know, what conferences they've been to. Isn't that an element of control and knowledge that you'd sort of want?
WHITMAN: No, not what conferences they went to because they have to be approved by the administration. So whatever they were going to was something that had something to do with their work that the previous administration - they were comfortable with. What I care about is what are they wanting to go to now - now that we're in, now that we're the ones in control? No, it never would have occurred to me to ask that question.
GREENE: You seem to be saying that the - Trump seems to be almost questioning loyalty before he comes into this new job.
WHITMAN: Yes, I can understand they're being very concerned. Listen, most of the people that I've found at the Environmental Protection Agency, the vast majority of them just want to do their job. At EPA, they believe in preserving and protecting public health and the environment. And so they'll do it whatever way you tell them to do it as long as they believe that's what you're after. It's when they don't think that that's what you really want to do that you can start running into problems.
GREENE: Governor Whitman, it's always a pleasure talking to you. Thanks so much for the time. We appreciate it.
WHITMAN: Oh, my pleasure. Good to talk to you.
MARTIN: That was David talking with Christine Todd Whitman. She was an EPA administrator under President George W. Bush.
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