Christine Whitman, first female Gov. of New Jersey, visits Rutgers 'Jerseyana' class
Christine Whitman held a position in the federal government that most Republican politicians these days would turn down — administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
But Whitman, who has been called a “RINO,” or "Republican In Name Only," believes the two political parties have become too polarized, or better stated, "exactly what Thomas Jefferson and George Washington feared."
"It has become less about policy and more about parties," she said.
Whitman, the only female governor in the history of New Jersey, visited Rutgers yesterday to speak to a class as part of the Department of American Studies course “Jerseyana,” which is devoted to examining New Jersey politics, art and music.
Whitman was elected governor from 1994 to 2001 and was the first Republican woman to defeat an incumbent, James Florio, during the election. After serving as governor, she became director of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003 under the Bush administration.
Contrary to popular belief, Whitman said environmental protection has historically been a Republican issue. Abraham Lincoln was the first president to set aside public land for enjoyment and Richard Nixon created the EPA.
"I'm always surprised when I see the enormous amount of push back (from Republicans)," she said. "It comes from a difference in philosophy in how much government interference you allow in your life."
She discussed the feasibility of America winding down on fossil fuel usage and using alternative forms of energy instead.
Nuclear energy, which is about 19 percent of America’s total electrical output, is one possible alternative renewable energy source, she said. Nuclear energy is the only form of 24/7 power that does not release regulated pollutants or greenhouse gases.
Renewable energy is currently only about 6 percent of total electrical output and Congress has not passed a national energy policy for decades.
“The problem with solar and wind ... is right now you can’t store them,” she said. “It only works when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. We are a 24/7 society.”
Corn-based ethanol, which many have viewed as a positive alternative source of energy, ruins catalytic convertors, pollutes the airs, disrupts feed supply and increases pesticide usage, Whitman said. In reality, corn farmers are the only group that benefits from corn-based ethanol.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, a treaty signed by the U.S. and 50 other countries in 2001, dealt with the 12 chemical pollutants termed “the dirty dozen.” As EPA Administrator, Whitman represented America at the signing of the treaty in Norway.
One of the pollutants banned by the treaty was DDT. Whitman said it was important to be cautious about the effects of environmental regulations across the globe, not just in the U.S.
“In the South Pacific, their problems with malaria and yellow fever were far greater than what we were seeing from DDT in the water, so they were allowed to continue spraying,” she said.
But Whitman said there is a stark difference between having the powerful position as governor of New Jersey and being director of the EPA. The president and the vice president shaped the EPA's policy, and Whitman's job was to advise George Bush and Dick Cheney on the best way to implement that policy.
Whitman ultimately resigned from her position following disagreements on policy with Vice President Dick Cheney.
Early on in her time as EPA administrator, Whitman said there were energy problems and blackouts in California. Bush put Cheney in charge of the energy situation in California, which Whitman called "the beginning of the end."
"There was one issue involving a Clean Air Act and the vice president and I were on completely different places on that," Whitman said. "I said, ‘You deserve to have an administrator who will sign the regulation and enforce it in good conscience, and I can’t.'”