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Crossfire

Christine Todd Whitman Discusses the Bush Administration's Environmental Policy

Aired February 26, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: From governor to the Bush Cabinet: Tonight, Christie Whitman on her new job, her new boss, and what she really thinks about drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. It was like old times today when George W. Bush met with his former fellow governors. The president's big task of the day was to practice reading his first speech to a joint session of Congress, to be delivered tomorrow night.

And on Capitol Hill today, Republican Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska introduced a bill that he promised will launch a titanic battle over whether to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Former Texas oil man Bush vigorously supports that, but does his environmental protection chief from the Northeast?

Christie Whitman suddenly burst on the national political scene in 1990 when, as an overwhelming underdog, she nearly defeated Bill Bradley in New Jersey for reelection to the U.S. Senate. Three years later, she unseated an incumbent Democrat to be elected governor of New Jersey and was reelected in 1997.

Her selection as the Bush's administration top environmental protector was heralded by The Sierra Club as beginning an ambush on the environment, dismantling 30 years of progress -- Bill Press.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: With those words, welcome to Governor Whitman.

CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Thank you.

PRESS: Let's start on the environment, and this is an issue that is not under your immediate jurisdiction, but is certainly the number one issue for the Bush administration, and that is Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Established by President Eisenhower in 1960, one of the most spectacular wilderness areas left in this country, been protected for 40 years. There's a minimal amount of oil there, and it would take at least 10 years to develop. You wouldn't support drilling for oil in the Grand Canyon. Do you support drilling for oil in ANWR? WHITMAN: Well, as you know, ultimately that's not my decision. That will be a decision, really, of Congress. You can't go forward with that unless Congress decides that that's appropriate. Our role in the Environmental Protection Agency will be to ensure that anything that happens is environmentally sound, that we make sure that we impose all the environmental regulations that are necessary to protect it if that's the decision. But that's a decision that's going to be made by the president and Congress and it can't happen without that support.

PRESS: But governor, we know you, and we know you're outspoken and you'll be weighing in on these issues and these decisions even before they're made. So, I'm talking about before you get to that point of doing your job, the basic decision about whether to go or not go.

Let me put it this way: Scientists estimate that at most there is a six-month supply of oil up there. You would not support drilling off the coast of New Jersey and destroying that magnificent coastline for a six-months' supply of oil. Do you support that drilling in Alaska?

WHITMAN: Well, I am part of that energy task force, chaired by the vice president, and we're looking at all the energy alternatives that we have because there's a real crisis, as you know. And at that meeting, I always raise my hand to bring in the environment to make sure that anything that is decided on an overall energy policy of which, if there's a decision to drill in ANWR, that would be part of it, takes environment into consideration. That's my job, that's what I believe in and that's what I'll do.

PRESS: That's not a no.

NOVAK: Was that a yes or no?

PRESS: That was not a no.

(LAUGHTER)

WHITMAN: That was we're going to protect the environment. That's what my role is and that's what I will do.

NOVAK: Let me just ask you one more question on that, and then we'll get on to something else. Your fellow -- your colleague in this administration, Gale Norton, secretary of the interior, said that -- told "The Washington Post" that they thought they could protect the tundra and she said quote: "Exploration and development could be limited to winter, allowing the use of ice airstrips, ice roads and ice platforms that would protect the ground," end quote.

Those are all environmental questions. Do you agree with that?

WHITMAN: I haven't had a chance -- that's first I've heard of that particular quote, and obviously, if again, if the decision is made to go ahead with exploration in ANWR, those would have to be considerations that we have to maintain because we have an agreement with the Canadian government as well. This is not just the United States, to protect the caribou in that area and we'd have to look to make sure that whatever is done does precisely that, protect the caribou.

NOVAK: Governor, tonight as we sit here, the environmental conservatives are up in arms because they have heard that President Bush in his speech to Congress tomorrow might is going to call for a multi-pollutant strategy which would put -- which implies a cap on carbon dioxide. The only theory under which carbon dioxide is alleged harmful is a catastrophic global warming theory, which was, as I remember, it was Al Gore's, not George Bush. They are really upset. Have you gotten e-mails and phone calls on this today?

WHITMAN: I haven't gotten any today that I know of, but I've been at a lot of meetings today and with the National Governors. George Bush was very clear during the course of the campaign that he believed in a multi-pollutant strategy, and that includes CO2, and I have spoken to that.

He has also been very clear that the science is good on global warming. It does exist. There is a real problem that we as a world face from global warming and to the extent that introducing CO2 to the discussion is going to have an impact on impact on global warming, that's an important step to take.

NOVAK: So, governor, the poor deluded voters who voted for George Bush thinking that he was different from Al Gore on the question of global warming, they made a sorry mistake, then. They didn't listen carefully enough.

WHITMAN: Well, I don't think they made a mistake because -- or maybe they didn't listen closely enough but he was very clear about that during the campaign. He talked about that during the campaign. He brought up the multi-pollutant strategy during the campaign and a lot of energy groups will tell you, and the energy companies, the utilities will tell you that they can, in fact -- it's going to be difficult. There will be challenges there, but there are ways that we can get to a multi-pollutant strategy on energy that would allow for energy and still meet some of these demands and the needs that we need to meet on global warming.

PRESS: I just want to assure you, Bob, there is a big difference between the two of them on the environment. Governor, a related question: Fuel efficiency standards, or so-called CAFE standards, I mean, that for cars in this country, trucks in this country, how many miles they get to the gallon, those things are 25 years old in this country.

Isn't it time to recognizing that we have energy problem, to get more fuel-efficient cars, and to force Detroit to build cars that we know other countries can, but our auto manufacturers just refuse to build?

WHITMAN: Well, actually, I've talked to a number of our auto manufacturers, I met with Ford just the other, and they are on a track to introduce this kind of car. They've seen what Toyota has done. They've got a car on the market that is an alternative fuel vehicle. Actually, it's a dual fuel model.

And they understand the need for this and they're talking about cars that would potentially get 80 miles to the gallon...

PRESS: Right.

WHITMAN: ... but it's long-term. But they understand they have got to do this. They are moving toward that, and I believe we are going to see much more fuel efficient cars. The consumer is the one, though, that drives a lot of this and we have to educate people to say it's important what your gas mileage is. You've got to care about that. You've got to car about some of these issues that you've taken for granted in the past.

PRESS: Well, I'm glad you mentioned Ford because they are, in effect, the good guy on the block right now and in California, as you know, the Air Resources Board has said that 10 percent of all cars sold in the state of California by the year 2003 would be pollution free. That's electric cars or solar cells or whatever.

Ford has said we'll meet that. General Motors is going to sue the state of California. Now, this is air quality, this is the Air Resources Board, this comes directly under your jurisdiction. You know you're going to be asked to side with General Motors or with California in this lawsuit. Where do you come down?

WHITMAN: Well, we haven't been brought into it yet...

PRESS: You will be.

WHITMAN: ... but if we're going to be part of this lawsuit, I can't comment on it because we're be in active lawsuit. That would be a mistake for me to take a position if I'm going to be litigating it, which I've found every decision I make I end up litigating it.

But look, it's absolutely clear that we have to do a better job of conservation. One the problems that we're facing with the energy crisis today is that we like to have things the way we're used to having them. We like to be able to have our homes warm all the time. We don't think about, many times, of putting thermostats on timers so that when we're out of the house it cools off a little bit or to inconvenience ourselves in any way.

And then at the same time, we wonder how it is we get ourselves in these positions where gas prices go up, heating prices go up. We face a crisis in demand and we've got to understand that it's interlinked with our behavior.

NOVAK: Governor, you may not know that Bill is from California. He was the failed Democratic State chairman there...

(CROSSTALK)

WHITMAN: I wouldn't characterize his time there.

NOVAK: But -- so they have a lot of trouble there. They've had a lot of trouble there with energy and just before he was sworn in, two days before he was sworn in, George W. Bush had this comment on the California energy crisis, and I'd like you to listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If there's any environmental regulations, for example, that's preventing California from having 100 percent max output at their plants, like I understand there may be, then we need to relax those regulation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: What do you think of that theory, the strong implication that he's citing is the possibility that the strong energy -- environmental regulations in California is what has contributed to the energy crisis there? What do you think of that?

WHITMAN: Well, first of all, that's not the case. What's happening in California is due in large part to decisions made in California over a period of 10 years. They hadn't even begun the contract for any new power generation sources until the last year or so. So a lot of the problems that they have are ones of their own creation.

Because I asked our people. I heard this. I asked our people to go back and to give me the environmental clean air regulations -- because it's clean air that we're talking about -- that were hampering the ability of the utilities in California to provide power and we couldn't find any.

Now, that's not to say that there might not be some problem in the future and in the summer California's going to face bigger problems, and so what we've done is asked people to be flexible. It's not rolling back. We're not rolling back any environmental protections. What we are is banking toward the future and trying to be flexible.

NOVAK: I want to get one more question in, if you can answer briefly.

WHITMAN: That's a challenge right there.

NOVAK: Your predecessor, Carol Browner, had a lot of trouble with industry, and when you -- with your confirmation hearings, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma said that Miss Browner, as EPA administrator, had been, excuse me, "out of control" -- unquote.

Do you think she was out of control?

WHITMAN: I think that's a characterization that he felt comfortable with. I was able to work with her and I know a lot people were able to work with her and our environment needs protection, so I won't characterize her behavior. But she certainly had a -- a certain way of doing things that got stuck in some people's cross.

PRESS: We're going to take a break and when we come back: as EPA chief, the environment's not -- that's not the only issue that Governor Christie Whitman will be asked to comment on or to take part in. What about taxes? What about the budget?

We'll get to those issues with Christie Whitman when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Christie Whitman can't thank John Ashcroft enough. Because he took all the heat, she was able to slip in under the radar. Not even one opponent testified at her confirmation hearing. But now she'll be under fire, and not just on environmental matters. As former governor of New Jersey, she'll be asked reviews on other major issues like tax cuts, budget cuts, and abortion.

In fact, those questions start right now. Our exclusive guest tonight, former New Jersey governor, new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Whitman -- Bob?

NOVAK: Governor, when you were governor of New Jersey you were outspoken in your criticism of the religious right of the antiabortion movement and there is nobody who represents that wing of the party more than Attorney General Ashcroft. Do you feel pretty uncomfortable when you sit at the Cabinet table with someone who disagrees with you on just about everything you think on social issues?

WHITMAN: Not at all, and I don't remember being critical of the religious right in toto. There are those people within the movement who were very critical of me and I always said there was room in my definition of the Republican party for them. There just wasn't room for me in their definition of the Republican party.

I have no problem at all. I respect him. I think he will be a very good attorney general. We don't share the same beliefs on some of the major issues but I don't see him as someone who will go outside the law in order to promote his set of values. And his basic values are ones that I share.

NOVAK: The very first thing that President Bush did when he was in office was to sign an executive order which restored the so-called Mexico City language, which cut off U.S. Government funding for family planning abroad on the grounds that some of the money might be used for abortion. Did that make you uncomfortable?

WHITMAN: I was sorry he did that and I obviously don't agree with that. But you know something? If you find anybody that I agree with 100 percent, I -- it'll be news to me. Nobody agrees with somebody else 100 percent.

And I respect this president so much overall on what he is going to accomplish in this nation, bringing us together, what he's going to do for people with taxes and education and Medicare, that -- you know, we disagree on that issue. He knows it, I know it. We go forward from there. PRESS: Let's follow through on that very quickly. Did he ask your advice and did you express your opposition to gag rule policy before he did it?

WHITMAN: No. No, the president has been very clear. You know, I look at the steps that he took in the beginning, in the first few days of the administration -- they were all absolutely consistent with what he had said before, during the campaign, and who he is and what he is. I would have expected nothing less of him. He is someone who delivers on what he says.

PRESS: But isn't that the problem? I mean, you're pro-choice, Colin Powell is pro-choice, and to a certain extent, to placate the conservatives and the pro-lifers, he has exiled you to EPA, Colin Powell, the secretary of state, where neither of you have anything to do -- any direct jurisdiction -- over choice matters, which are important to you.

WHITMAN: Well, they are important but I also think the environment is very important, too. Everybody breathes the air and drinks the water and lives on the land. Every decision I make impacts everybody.

And as for Colin Powell, as secretary of state, I don't think there's a more prestigious Cabinet post. It's number one in order of succession after the vice president. So those are two very important positions.

The fact that we're not dealing with social issues, per se, doesn't bother me because a lot of what I do and decisions I make -- and the same thing with General Powell -- the decisions he makes affects our overall well-being, and that's important.

NOVAK: You had to deal, Christine Whitman, for seven years with the New Jersey legislature as governor. Not everybody in that legislature agreed with you on everything. But President Bush, tomorrow night, goes before a contentious, evenly divided Congress. He has said his whole presidency may depend on this tax bill.

The Democrats say: Mr. President, we've got the answer for you. Cut down the size, change the distribution, redistribute the income. Is that a tempting way to say, OK, we're going to all reason together and not have so much contention?

WHITMAN: No. This tax cut -- this whole budget, you will see, is a very carefully-thought-out document. A very balanced document that not only puts a lock box on Social Security but provides for substantial surplus with a rainy day fund, if you wanted to call it that, within that for unforeseen contingencies. It is one that is conservative in its projections for growth and still can accommodate a tax cut.

And you know, the thing I found in New Jersey -- when I came in, we were in the midst of -- we hadn't come out of the recession, or slowdown, however you want to refer to it -- within that for unforeseen contingencies conservative in its projection for growth, and still can accommodate a tax cut.

You know, the thing I found in New Jersey; when I came in, we hadn't come out of the recession -- slowdown, however you want to refer to it -- and when we cut taxes, I heard from my last month as governor, we have over 520,000 more jobs today when I took office. Our unemployment rate is 3.6 percent. We are leading the industrial northeast; and what's happened: tax cuts work to stimulate the economy.

NOVAK: But the Democrats told you that the tax cuts would wreck the state of New Jersey, so what would your advice to President Bush be?

WHITMAN: Oh, he doesn't need my advice on this, because he feels just the way I do. You don't vary from this. You fight it, you know it's the right thing, it will stimulate the economy, and you stick with it, which is what he will do.

PRESS: You mentioned the budget, and I want to question you in a second. But, first you mentioned the budget. To make room for this giant tax cut, the president has to cut somewhere. Lo and behold, look where he's cutting, Madam Environment.

He's cutting the Energy Department's renewable fuels project by 22 percent, cutting their environmental cleanup by $1 billion, cutting Fish and Wildlife by 22 percent, cutting the USGS -- which is all that satellite mapping which is so helpful for environmentalists -- by 25 percent.

So, the environment is the victim of George Bush's budget in order to pay for tax cuts; squawking about that?

WHITMAN: No, I would argue with you on that. As head of the Environmental Protection Agency, I will tell you that we will be able to do our job just fine, thank you, with the budget the president is proposing. In fact, it will be the second largest operating budget in the history of the agency to go up to the Hill. He has a commitment here.

This budget is about priorities. And the most money you will see expended -- the biggest increases in education, you will see money in Medicare, but he believes, and I support him in this, that tax cuts will stimulate what we have seen to be a little squishy economy.

PRESS: Just a quick, final question on tax cuts. Because part of this tax cut plan is getting rid of the estate tax; and last week we saw some very wealthy Americans.

NOVAK: Billionaires.

PRESS: Yes, David Rockefeller Jr. and William Gates Sr. and George Soros and Warren Buffett. They all came out and said, this is wrong to cut the estate tax; it will just further enrich the very, very rich and hurt the poor.

WHITMAN: I which they talked to the small businessperson that immigrated to this country from another one, build a business of their own and want to pass it on to their kids; but they are not vastly wealthy, and the estate tax will really hurt their ability to continue things as family businesses and talk to the small farmer who wants to pass that on to their family and the generations to come.

They are the ones who are really going to benefit from this. Will the wealthy get a bigger absolute amount? Yes, when I cut taxes in New Jersey, yes, they got more money -- they make more money. A small incremental tax cut still yields more money to them.

But, it's the middle income person -- the person that wants to be middle income -- who really benefits the most, and the lower income person gets out from paying takes entirely, many of them, under this plan.

NOVAK: Let the billionaires contribute to the government, I say. Environmental Protection administrator Christine Whitman; thank you very much.

WHITMAN: It's a pleasure.

PRESS: Thanks, Governor.

NOVAK: Bill Press and I will be back to talk about dirty air and global warming.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Bill Press, I have to congratulate you. It's the idea that you lost the election, that Al Gore was defeated and yet, global warming returns. We have to worry about CO2 emissions, and all that nonsense. Congratulations.

PRESS: Bob, I would take your congratulation if you were right, but I don't think this will be an environmental-friendly administration. It will be war on the environment, and it starts with drilling in Alaska, which is a bad move for George Bush.

NOVAK: You made me feel better already, because I was feeling kind of blue after listening to Christie Whitman, and now you made me feel good.

PRESS: I will make you feel even better, Bob. I want to congratulate you, because it's your birthday, and all America celebrates. Happy birthday!

NOVAK: Tell them how old I am.

PRESS: I'll let you tell them how old you are.

NOVAK: I'm 70 years old.

PRESS: Imagine that; 70 years of giving liberals grief. From the left, I'm Bill Press, good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak, join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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