Former EPA official slated to speak at Lied urges action on energy policy

By DON WALTON
Lincoln Journal Star
October 12, 2010

It’s way past time to get serious about energy and the environment, Christine Todd Whitman said Tuesday.

Congress has an obligation to act now, she said, and “there are steps we can take without cratering our economy.”

But it will take citizen involvement to “send a message to Washington that says enough with the partisan politics,” Whitman said in a telephone interview in advance of her Thursday appearance in Lincoln.

Whitman, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and governor of New Jersey 1994-2001, will deliver the Governor’s Lecture in the Humanities at the Lied Center Thursday night.

“The environment is important for us to care about no matter what you think about global climate change,” she said.

And energy plays a vital role in shaping the nation’s security and economic future, she said.

“We need a 28 percent increase in electricity by 2035, and 2035 is tomorrow as far as utilities are concerned.”

Planning and capital formation decisions need to begin immediately, she said.

“We need an energy policy right now.”

Whitman is president of the Whitman Strategy Group, a consulting firm specializing in energy and environmental issues.

“We need a mix of power going forward,” she said, “and we should promote all forms of green power.”

That includes nuclear, wind and solar.

Wind power, which Nebraska has begun to develop in earnest, presents challenges in “how to store it and how to hook it up to the grid,” Whitman said.

“We need to get much better at conservation,” she said. “And we need to determine if ‘clean coal’ technology is real.”

In the meantime, Whitman would not halt drilling for oil offshore.

“I do not say quit. I say be very careful.”

One of the clear lessons of the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the need for a much better federal response system, Whitman said.

Congress ought to step up to its obligation to control carbon emissions, she said, but if it won’t, then the EPA has no choice but to do so.

“It is Congress’ role,” she said.

However, the EPA has regulatory responsibility to ensure air quality under the Clean Air Act if a deadlocked Congress refuses to act.

“It shouldn’t happen this way,” Whitman said. “This has huge economic consequences depending on how you set it up.”

Climate change is real, she said.

“Human activity is exacerbating the natural trend. What we’re putting into the air and changes we make to the land are having some kind of impact.

“We’re not going to stop climate change. That’s human arrogance (to think so).

“But we need to look at steps (we could take) to mitigate it without sending the economy into a tailspin.”