By John S. Hausman
June 02, 2010, 11:00PM
MUSKEGON — Fix it now, lay the blame later.
In particular, don’t launch a criminal probe while oil is still gushing, uncontrolled, into the Gulf of Mexico.
That’s former Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman’s view of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Right now, you want a total and complete focus on capping the well,” Whitman said in an interview with the Chronicle Wednesday. “I think it’s a bad idea at this point in time for Attorney General (Eric) Holder to be going down there to announce a criminal investigation.”
Whitman, President George W. Bush’s first EPA administrator in 2001-03 and New Jersey’s Republican governor in 1994-2001, was in Muskegon Wednesday to endorse and help raise money for congressional candidate Field Reichardt, a Grand Haven businessman. Reichardt is one of seven GOP candidates for the 2nd District seat being vacated by Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland.
Whitman is president of the Whitman Strategy Group, a consulting firm that specializes in energy and environmental issues. She also co-chairs the Republican Leadership Council, a centrist group she founded with former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri.
In an interview before a fundraising dinner for Reichardt at Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute, Whitman said she doesn’t fault the Obama administration’s response to the Gulf oil leak after it happened, although safety-regulation enforcement before the fact may be a different story.
For now, “the focus should be on stopping it and cleaning it up,” not recriminations, she said.
In a larger sense, the BP disaster can become a “teachable moment” for setting a coherent energy policy for the United States, Whitman said.
That should include more conservation and more use of nuclear energy, in addition to continued drilling and alternative energy sources, she said. “We need an energy policy. We don’t have it,” Whitman said.
The Gulf disaster shouldn’t lead to a knee-jerk ban on oil drilling, she said. “Oil will be part of our future. We have to be smarter,” Whitman said.
“We are extremely good at saying ‘No’ in this country. There are pros and cons to all energy sources … There’s going to have to be a mix.”
Citing her lack of expertise on the issue, Whitman has no position on directional oil drilling under the Great Lakes — advocated by some in Michigan, including Republican former Department of Environmental Quality Director Russ Harding. Reichardt said he opposes directional drilling. He does not have a position on offshore wind turbines in the Great Lakes, saying the issue needs more study.
Whitman said she is endorsing Reichardt as a “sensible centrist” who can work with both Republicans and Democrats, and as “a strong voice on the environment,” needed in the Republican caucus with the pending retirement of U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers of Grand Rapids.
“It is within the Republican tradition,” Whitman said of environmentalism — citing Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation measures and Richard Nixon’s establishment of the EPA in 1970, among other examples.