Did Bush’s EPA chief quit after Dick Cheney changed power plant laws?

posted by Matt Ran

Former EPA director Christine Whitman is having a rough time lately. She was appointed by Bush to head the environmental agency, until she abruptly resigned in 2003. A few weeks ago, scandal broke around statements she had made to the public shortly after Sept 11th – declaring the air quality in NY was “Safe to breathe”. But a recent report by the EPA’s Inspector General showed that the EPA lacked sufficient data to make that statement – and that the White House had pressured her to withdraw cautionary statements and replace them reassuring ones. She (and the EPA) are now facing a number of lawsuits related to health-claims from workers and emergency responders. A recent study showed 70% of 9-11 responders are dealing with respiratory illnesses.

And then yesterday, Christine Whitman changes her reasons for her abrupt resignation from the EPA in 2003. Although her clashes with the Bush administration were well known, she originally cited her departure as a desire to “spend more time with her family”. But now she is saying that she left under intense pressure from the White House (Cheney in particular) to implement pro-industry coal power plant rules that would skyrocket levels of air pollution!

An interview in the Washington Post with Whitman discusses the matter in more detail. But what it boils down to was Cheney personally calling the EPA head, trying to force a helping hand to industry interests that were big contributors to the Bush/Cheney campaign. At issue was a provision of the Clean Air Act called the New Source Review- which requires older power plants to install pollution controls as part of retrofits. Cheney’s pals in the industry didn’t like the fines, lawsuits, and costs that lowering emissions entailed, so Cheney’s energy task force pushed the EPA to rewrite the regulations.

After some back-and-forth with the White House on the rewrite, Whitman realized she was losing. The Bush administration had already decided the verdict – environment-be-damned while industry profits can soar. The final rule was written at the direction of the White House, and allowed some of the dirtiest power plants to avoid installing pollution controls. Whitman’s statement on the new law:

“I just couldn’t sign it,” she said.”The president has a right to have an administrator who could defend it, and I just couldn’t.”

As some of you may recall – the Supreme Court recently ruled that this re-write violated the Clean Air Act. In fact, one of the Judges stated that the Bush administration had redefined the law in a way that could be valid “only in a Humpty-Dumpty world.”.

Yet another blatant attempt by Bush and Co. to gut existing environmental laws and replace sound science, environmental concerns, climate change, and public health below the interests of their CEO cronies.