George W. Bush’s EPA chief thinks Biden will revert agency to pre-Trump era

Source: By Abby Smith, Washington Examiner • Posted: Tuesday, November 24, 2020

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Christine Todd Whitman, who led the Environmental Protection Agency during former President George W. Bush’s first term, is counting on President-elect Joe Biden to restore the agency to its former stature.

Biden’s agenda to curb emissions and other pollution will immediately help win favor with EPA staff who have been sidelined during the Trump administration, Whitman said. Biden is expected to pursue the most aggressive climate change agenda of any president, in part through new regulations at the EPA.

“It’s not going to be hard for him to show the commitment that he has” to the environment and climate change, which will help “alleviate a lot of the tension” that’s been at the EPA during the Trump administration, Whitman told the Washington Examiner in a recent interview.

“There was not much belief, with good reason, that this particular administration cared about anything in the environment,” she added of President Trump’s White House. “The environment was just seen as an impediment to the president doing what he wanted to do relative to various industries and the base, basically, because that’s all he really focused on.”

Whitman, also the former Republican governor of New Jersey, is no fan of Trump. She has been an outspoken critic of the way the Trump administration has weakened environmental and climate regulations and sought to gut the EPA’s budget and staff.

During the 2020 campaign, Whitman endorsed Biden. A lifelong Republican, she spoke briefly at the Democratic National Convention about her support for him, and she led the group Republicans and Independents for Biden, which consisted of nearly 100 former GOP lawmakers and government officials working to defeat Trump.

Part of Whitman’s gripes with Trump is centered on his environmental policy, or in her view, his lack thereof. In an open letter over the summer, Whitman and five other EPA administrators, both Republican and Democratic, raised alarm about the current state of the agency, which turns 50 this year.

The former administrators said the EPA must evolve to combat new environmental challenges, predominantly climate change, and must fight for more resources and funding. They also stressed that the EPA must conduct scientific research and analysis free from political influence.

Whitman said there are several steps Biden can take immediately to start getting the EPA back on track. That includes rejoining the Paris climate agreement, though she said what specific policies the EPA imposes to meet emissions requirements under that deal will depend in part on whom Biden chooses as agency administrator.

Regardless, the Biden EPA will quickly be able to peel back some Trump-era proposals that haven’t been finalized as well as decline to defend environmental rollbacks in court, Whitman said.

“There’s quite a lot they can do right from the get-go, and I look forward to them doing it,” she added.

However, Whitman said the Biden administration will face some challenges implementing its agenda because of how much the EPA’s staff has shrunk during the Trump administration.

The agency has lost hundreds of scientists, and those who have been replaced have come largely from the industries the EPA regulates, Whitman said, calling it a “toxic environment.”

Biden will also get a late start because Trump still hasn’t conceded the election and his administration seeks to obstruct the transition process.

“The problem is, they’ve got to stand up, and that takes time,” Whitman said. “Unfortunately, with this delay, we’re getting in the ability to move forward with the transition. That does have an impact. You cannot ignore that.”

Whitman warned that the Trump administration appears to be attempting to install “loyalists” at federal agencies to try to make it difficult for the incoming Biden administration to move their priorities forward. She called on Republican lawmakers to step up and beat back the Trump administration’s obstruction of the transition process.

“It’s really tragic and unprecedented, the degree to which they are willing to go to stop an orderly transition to help the country move forward,” Whitman said.

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