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Whitman brings business-friendly approach to EPA
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Source: Suntimes.com

Related Story --> Environmental Defense endorses new EPA head Christine Todd Whitman

(this is an excerpt from full article found at above url)

Whitman brings business-friendly approach to EPA

BY MICHAEL GRUNWALD AND ERIC PIANIN

WASHINGTON--Gov. Christie Whitman cut New Jersey's environmental protection budget by about 30 percent.

She relaxed enforcement of pollution regulations, promoting voluntary compliance and cooperation instead of corporate fines.

She abolished her state's environmental prosecutor's office and replaced its public advocate with a business ombudsman.

Whitman also fought against ocean dumping and launched a popular initiative to preserve 1 million acres of open space in the nation's most densely populated state.

But New Jersey business officials who complained for years about onerous environmental regulations say that in general, Whitman kept the pledge she made at her inauguration to make the state "open for business."

Friday, President-elect George W. Bush tapped Whitman to bring her business-friendly approach to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has expanded its regulatory reach during the Clinton administration.

At the announcement, they both hinted that a more cooperative regulatory atmosphere may be coming to the agency, with Bush dismissing "the central command-and-control mind-set" and Whitman observing that "I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of mandates from Washington."

The environment was not a central issue in the campaign, but it could be one of the starkest areas where the Bush-Cheney administration will differ from Clinton-Gore.

The buzz before Whitman's appointment focused on her support for abortion rights, but with most of the nation's major environmental laws up for renewal, her confirmation hearings are likely to focus primarily on her regulatory record.

The key word at Friday's announcement in Austin was "balance," with Bush and Whitman promising to consider the importance of economic growth as well as environmental protection. Whitman acknowledged the challenges ahead.

"I have never underestimated the importance of environmental protection, nor have I overestimated the ease of protecting it," said Whitman, 54, a longtime Bush political ally, who gave him a puppy as a Christmas gift.

In New Jersey--a heavily industrialized state with the nation's highest concentration of Superfund sites--the business community praised Whitman's laissez-faire approach.

Whitman's Environmental Protection Department--led by a local politician with no college degree who had run his own equipment supply company--tried to persuade polluters to mend their ways voluntarily. It collected far fewer fines and filed far fewer lawsuits, relying heavily on the polluters themselves to monitor their own emissions, even approving a "grace period" for businesses caught out of compliance.

Whitman also streamlined the state permitting process for developers, eliminated permits for minor projects, and removed more than 1,000 chemicals from the state's right-to-know list. And she signed an executive order rolling back most state regulations that were stricter than their federal counterparts.

These reforms, deep tax cuts and the resurgence of the national economy, helped New Jersey produce more than 400,000 new jobs during her administration.

"She hasn't buckled under the pressure from environmentalists who go door-to-door selling eco-fear," said Chris Biddle, vice president for communications of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. "She's stopped treating businesses like felons, and she's gotten rid of a lot of those hoops and hurdles that made it so difficult to do business here."

Often, though, Whitman's pro-business approach to the environment has run afoul of green groups, and at times her Environmental Protection Department has clashed directly with President Clinton's EPA over her delay of new standards for auto emission inspections, a proposed highway expansion, a water-monitoring program and an effort to relax water-quality rules that she announced on a canoe trip.

Most recently, the EPA and the state inspector general criticized a sweetheart deal New Jersey cut for an influential Republican cranberry grower who had committed wetlands violations.

"Whitman's appointment is a Christmas gift to America's polluters," said Jeff Tittle, head of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter. "People think she's a moderate because she's pro-choice. But she's taken a hard-right approach on the issues she'll see at EPA."

The national leaders of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups have taken a more conciliatory stance toward Whitman. This is partly because they will have to work with her, partly because they believe she is much more eco-friendly than other potential appointees by Bush, who was not known as an ardent environmentalist as governor of Texas.

The Whitman administration has been notably aggressive about ocean protection--beach closings are now almost unheard of in New Jersey--and has led the nation in the recycling of dredge spoil. Whitman also has supported the EPA's lawsuit to force Midwestern factories to meet higher air-quality standards and its plan to force General Electric to dredge the contaminated Hudson River. She has expressed concern about global warming.

"We're generally optimistic," said Alyssondra Campaigne, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Her record is mixed. It's not a perfect record, but it's one that leaves us hopeful we can work with her."

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