The renegade: Christine Whitman argues for the environment

Interview By Rae Tyson
The Daily Climate
September 6, 2011

Christine Todd Whitman served as the first woman governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001 and was Environmental Protection Agency administrator under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003. She is president of The Whitman Strategy Group, a consulting firm that specializes in energy and environmental issues, and she co-directs the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, an advocacy group started and funded by the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Gov. Whitman is the author of “It’s My Party, Too: Taking Back the Republican Party… And Bringing the Country Together Again”. She and her husband, John R. Whitman, live on a farm in Tewksbury Township, N.J.

– What was your reaction to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s statements questioning climate science?

Dismissing the validity of climate change is very naive.

– Is it fair to say that your experience at EPA under the Bush administration was frustrating?

Very. We got some good things done but there were battles on 360 degrees. The administration was, at times, very short-sighted on what it could accomplish.

– Presumably that frustration extended to climate change. You once characterized President Bush’s position as “flipping the bird” to the rest of the world.

It was difficult to operate in an environment that was so different from what I had expected.

– How would you rate President Obama’s environmental record so far?

Very mixed – he’s trying to back-door some things, and that is just setting him up for a real fight with the Hill. He’s backed away from climate change, and now he’s not talking about it at all.

– How are you adapting to your role as a grandparent?

Oh, I love it. My daughter (Kate) has twins that are six, a 16-month-old and another who will be born in January – all boys. I just had them all day and I don’t know how she does it. I was exhausted.

– You live on 242 acres in a 1769 farmhouse that has been in your family for two generations. What do you raise?

Pigs, mostly for our own consumption, chickens and cattle; we usually run a few head of beef cattle. Our fields are in mulch hay, which used to be known as timothy hay. It is a house my parents bought in 1933.

– How did your experience in the governor’s mansion compare to serving in Washington?

It’s an entirely different thing to be part of a cabinet rather than to have your own. I knew what to expect in some ways because I knew what I expected of my cabinet, but there’s really no comparing the two jobs.

– What did you think of New Jersey Gov. Christie’s decision to withdraw from the regional climate change compact?

I was disappointed, except that he didn’t back away from his stated position that climate change needed to be addressed, and that was a good thing. He just said economically it isn’t making sense at this point.

– Do you have any interest in running for office again? One cannot help but note, for example, that one of New Jersey’s U.S. senators is the oldest-serving member in the Senate.

No. I’m content as long as I’m able to be involved in policy making.
You work a lot on energy issues. What’s the viability of nuclear power in the US?

– We need to see a balanced portfolio of energy sources, and that would include nuclear.

Is the Tea Party moving the GOP in a healthy direction?

– The Tea Party members that focus on the economic issues have changed the debate in Washington and that’s not a bad thing.

However, I think the reality is, they have to understand you don’t get everything all at once. Finding the center is the art of governing.

– What happens in your spare time?

I ride mountain bikes. There are a lot of dirt roads around us. Then it is hiking, fishing, golf – anything to get us outdoors.

– Golf? What’s your handicap?

Eighteen, but it should be higher, I think. When you don’t play enough, it doesn’t help.