Former EPA leader Christine Todd Whitman calls BP oil spill ‘teachable moment’ during fundraising stop in Grand Rapids

By Jim Harger
The Grand Rapids Press
June 02, 2010

GRAND RAPIDS — Nature lovers always tread lightly in sensitive natural areas.

And so it was Wednesday when Field Reichardt, a Republican candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, brought former Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman to town for a fundraising luncheon at Frederik Meijer Gardens.

Whitman, who served on an advisory board to BP until last year, decried the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But she cautioned against fixing blame or pushing new laws in Congress until the cause of the accident is determined.

“This is teachable moment we’ve all been talking about,” said Whitman, who served as New Jersey’s governor before joining the EPA in the Bush’s Administration from 2000 to 2003.

“We don’t have a comprehensive energy policy in Washington,” said Whitman, who also is pushing for a revival of nuclear power as co-chair of a group called the “Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.”

Whitman cautioned against new anti-drilling restrictions in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. That kind of reaction killed the U.S. nuclear industry in the late 1970s after the Three Mile Island nuclear plant failure in Pennsylvania, she said.

“We are good at saying ‘No’ in this country,” she said. “We can find a reason to oppose anything.”

Reichardt, a Grand Haven businessman whose district includes 160 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, treaded lightly on the issue of wind power, saying he has not developed a position on proposals to put wind farms in Lake Michigan and along the shoreline.

“I don’t oppose it, I don’t support it,” said Reichardt, adding that he is following development of offshore wind farm technology in Germany.

Reichardt also used Whitman’s visit to tout endorsements by the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund and Republicans for Environmental Protection, whose motto is “Conservation is Conservative.”

The 61-year-old olive oil importer is one of seven Republicans running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland.

Reichardt said he is trying to distinguish himself from the “Gang of Six” conservative Republicans by portraying himself as an old school moderate in the tradition of Gerald R. Ford, who encouraged him to enter politics as a student in the mid-1960s.

“I’ve always believed problems are solved from the middle,” said Reichardt, whose resume includes several economic development posts for then-Gov. John Engler’s administration in the early 1990s.

Though fiscally conservative, Reichardt said he also is a “social realist” who believes “people need to live their own lives without someone telling them how to live their lives.”

Other GOP candidates for the open seat include: former state Rep. Bill Huizenga, state Sen. Wayne Kuipers, former Buffalo Bills tight end Jay Riemersma, Muskegon businessman Bill Cooper, Edward “Ted” Schendel of Benzie County, and Spring Lake resident Chris Larson.

Democratic candidates are Fred Johnson, a Hope College history professor, and Nicolette McClure, a Lake County commissioner.

Reichardt and Whitman also were scheduled to appear at a fundraising dinner at the Walter Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon and a Thursday morning breakfast at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville.