EPA’s exhaust fumes

Christine Whitman was never going to be effective as director of the Environmental Protection Agency, even if she’d wanted to be. She simply didn’t have the clout to stand up to the corporadoes and oil men in the Bush administration, beginning with the president himself. So when she resigned last week, the only question was, will her successor be worse?

Whitman was bad enough. As the Sacramento Bee reported this week, EPA inspections have dropped by 15 percent and criminal referrals by 40 percent during her tenure. More important, the amount of pollution reduced or prevented as a result of the agency’s efforts dropped to 921 million pounds, down from 7.5 billion pounds.

Whitman had some notable wins—cleaning up diesel exhaust, dredging pollutants from the Hudson River and focusing cleanup efforts on the Central Valley’s terrible smog problem. But overall the EPA under her has become a shadow of its former self, beginning with her supine acceptance of Bush’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Accord on Global Warming. Other higher-ups in the EPA, frustrated by the agency’s low morale and lack of appetite for going after polluters, preceded her in resignation.

Who will take her place? We can hope the president, if only for pre-election political reasons, picks someone who will stand up for environmental health. We’re not holding our breath, however.