EPA's Whitman Tries to 'Clear Up' Issues With Environmentalists

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Less than a month after EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman had to eat her words about the Bush administration's position on carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions, Whitman Friday tried to patch things up with environmental groups.

"I'd like to clear up a few issues," Whitman told a meeting of National Wildlife Federation members. "President Bush takes the challenge of global climate change very seriously."

When Bush last month decided against pushing for carbon dioxide reductions, the main provision of the international global warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol, he forced Whitman to back-track on her previous comments.

In early March, Whitman had publicly declared that the administration was "supportive of the goal of Kyoto; nothing has changed." Friday, in her meeting with environmentalists, Whitman acknowledged that the administration would not support the Kyoto agreement to reduce "greenhouse gases" because, according to the EPA administrator, the agreement lacks sufficient congressional and international support. Bush has said he will not impose an energy policy that would restrict American economic growth.

Environmental advocacy groups like the NWF contend that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that contributes to the phenomenon known as global warming. They believe restrictions on energy consumption are the key to slowing a trend of human-induced global warming. Both claims have proved controversial, as critics point to disagreement on scientific evidence as well as the potential for energy restrictions harming the economy.

Whitman said the Bush administration would emphasize voluntary efforts to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gases. "Voluntary efforts are making a difference" in slowing the growth of greenhouse gases, she said.

"Partnerships are at the heart" of the Bush administration's plans for "environmental stewardship," Whitman told the assembled activists. She named private land conservation, watershed management and the cleaning of polluted urban areas as examples in which the federal government could offer incentives to private landowners and businesses to limit "urban sprawl" and better control pollutants that enter rivers and other water sources. "We all live downstream," said Whitman.

But the NWF remained skeptical. "Administrator Whitman's presence here today suggests that there may yet be a chance to find common ground for progress," said NWF President Mark Van Putten. "So far this administration's actions have spoken far louder" than Whitman's words, said Van Putten.

Whitman, who serves on the energy task force headed by Vice President Cheney, avoided discussion of another major disagreement between the environmental group and the administration, the proposed oil exploration of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, the omission did not escape the notice of NWF spokesman Ben McNitt. "She has a voice in that task force's coming up with strategies," said McNitt. "In that real sense, she has a voice in ... this administration's strategy on ... energy, and that includes their position on opening the artic refuge."

The NWF opposes drilling in the ANWR out of fear that it would harm caribou herds and other animals. "We can't drill our way out" of the "so-called energy crisis," Van Putten declared.

See Earlier Story:

Bush Backs Away from Carbon Dioxide Pledge