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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

White House Chief of Staff Andy Card hosted the first edition of "Ask the White House". Mark Forman, Administrator for E-Government and Information Technology hosted another online session April 17th.

Christie Whitman
Christie Whitman

April 22, 2003

Christine Todd Whitman
Good evening, I'm Christie Whitman, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. On this Earth Day 2003, I welcome you to the third of our "Ask the White House" online discussions. This evening, as we join together to discuss our environment, it's important to reflect on just how far we've come. We don't have killer smogs today and our rivers don't catch fire, but we still have headlines like the ones this week stating that one child in four in parts of New York City have asthma.

We're working hard to change that. The President's Clear Skies legislation would force the reduction of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and mercury emissions by 70 percent. We just announced a program to significantly cut emissions from non-road diesels -- construction and agricultural equipment -- and we've just launched Clean School Bus USA as well as pilot projects to clean up our urban rivers.

I'm looking forward to chatting with you about the environment, so let's get started.

Matt, from Kensington, MD writes:
It appears to me that forest protection and clean air should be top priorities for the EPA, but as far as I can tell the the timber, oil, and utility lobbyist have your bosses ear. What are you doing to protect the forest and reduce air pollution?

Christine Todd Whitman
First of all, thank you very much for the question, These are two very important areas for the President. In fact, President Bush mentioned both of those issues in his State of the Union Address this year. The President’s Clear Skies proposal would require the greatest reductions of the three worst pollutants from power plants than any Administration has ever proposed. These reductions would be mandatory and would achieve 35 million more tons of reductions from Clear Skies in the next decade than what we could get under business as usual with the current Clean Air Act. The Healthy Forests Initiative, run by the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, recognizes that federal policy dating back to the late 1800s of fighting every fire wherever it occurred has resulted in an unnatural buildup of vegetation and trees in many areas today than we had back then. Intelligent management of the forest will ensure that when a fire does occur there is not so much fuel that it immediately burns out of control and devastates the forest entirely. And when that happens, it affects the quality of our air and our water with long-term negative effects.

Paul, from Frederick,MD writes:
what enviromental practices did you bring from your years in New Jersey and are they working in the federal governemnt or across the land?

Christine Todd Whitman
The most important lesson that I brought from my days as governor is that the way to measure environmental progress is not defined exclusively by fines, fees and penalties, but whether the air is cleaner, the water purer, and the land better protected. That is a mindset that we are using at the agency along with the traditional tools of enforcement. We really can’t say we’ve done our job unless we’ve improved the environment – that’s the true measure of success.

Andrew, from Chicago writes:
What are your priorities in the area of the Environment protection?

Christine Todd Whitman
Obviously, cleaner air, purer water, better protected lands, and healthier communities. We’re working towards cleaner air through the President’s Clear Skies proposal, our Clean School Bus USA program, and the non-road diesel regulations that we recently proposed. Our new watershed based approach to cleaner water will help us address problems that we are now facting from non-point source pollution. And the President’s successful effort at achieving the passage of Brownfields legislation is allowing cities and towns across America to restore abandoned eyesores to productive use. In addition, the Agency is in the process of developing a status report on the environment that will help us know where we are and evaluate our progress toward our goals.

Mary, from Bismarck, ND writes:
Why are the EPA and other government agencies currently rolling back rules and laws that protect our health and environment?

Christine Todd Whitman
A close look at the actions of the EPA during the Bush Administration over the last two-and-a half years shows a constant expansion of our protection of the environment: from the dramatic requirements of the cleanup of the Hudson River, to the new non-road diesel regulation that some environmental groups have hailed as providing potentially the greatest health benefits since lead was removed from gasoline some 20 years ago. The President’s Clear Skies proposal would for the first time directly require that the utility industry reduce emissions by 70 percent of the three most harmful pollutants. The President has also doubled the amount of money for the Brownfields program and is requesting $150 million in additional Superfund money for fiscal year ’04 to clean up hazardous waste sites. Combined with some of the largest settlements recently reached with industry to clean up the environment, there can be no doubt of this Administration’s commitment to a better quality of life for all Americans.

Carol, from California writes:
Why dont you include Carbon dioxide as one of the gases that should be curbed by industrial sources?

Christine Todd Whitman
The President’s Clear Skies proposals focuses on the three most harmful pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act, and carbon dioxide is not regulated as a pollutant under that Act. While I’m sure there will be great discussion about carbon and the President has supported numbers of initiatives to address global climate change, we have an opportunity with Clear Skies to address three of the most harmful pollutants that affect the air we breathe and the health of our communities and environment.

Michael, from Columbia, SC writes:
Did you want to pop Matt Lauer in the head when he asked you the SUV question this morning?

Christine Todd Whitman
I always appreciate the opportunity to talk about the Administration’s environmental policies on venues like the Today show. The SUV question is a challenge for all Americans who like to drive those types of cars. What we do is provide them with an opportunity to learn which of the SUVs are the most environmentally friendly. We are working actively with the auto industry and the Department of Energy on alternative fuel technology for passenger cars, SUVs and light trucks. Ultimately, with the President’s commitment to hydrogen technology, Americans will be able to drive any vehicle they choose and not be harming the environment.

Aram, from Boston, MA writes:
On Earth day, Id like to ask why Pres. Bush doesnt support the polluters pay section of the Superfund law.

Christine Todd Whitman
In fact, the President and this Administration vigorously supports polluter pays and over the last two years, 70 percent of the Superfund sites that are being cleaned up are being paid for by the polluters. And in fact, in the first two years of the Bush Administration, polluters have been required to spend more money to restore the environment than during the last three years of the prior Administration. As has been traditional with the program, for those 30 percent of the sites where the polluter has either gone out of business or we can not identify them, dollars from general revenues have been used to ensure that the sites are cleaned up and the public is protected.

Craig, from Rock Springs, Wyoming writes:
I am interested in intermittent streams in the arid mountain west. These streams are in fragile lands where one can still see the wagon tracks of the Oregon Trail now over a century old. The headwaters of many of these streams are located in areas of proposed gas exploration and mining. Why is the administration supporting gas exploration and mountaintop mining that will bury important headwater streams?

Christine Todd Whitman
Coal represents 53 percent of our energy mix today. Mountain top mining will continue to be a part of that mix, but before any project is undertaken environmental assessments must be done to ensure that the public water supply is never harmed by these actions. We recently promulgated regulations that put additional controls to restrict the scope of what could be deposited into the waters.

Shaun, from Pennsylvania writes:
What is the progress of the Presidents Watershed Initiative?

Christine Todd Whitman
In last year’s budget, the President requested an additional $21 million to start the program, and we were appropriated $16 million by Congress. We expect to be releasing those grants within the next month. In addition, the President has requested for FY04 another $20 million to fund additional watershed projects. We are working very closely with the Department of Agriculture and the Army Corps of Engineers on best management practices and watershed protection.

Chip, from Baton Rouge, La writes:
What would you say is the hardest part about your job?

Christine Todd Whitman
Probably the hardest part of this job is separating the rhetoric from reality and getting the true message of the Administration’s environmental commitment out to the public. While we may disagree on methods, I truly believe that all Americans share our goals of a cleaner and healthier environment for the nation, while at the same time ensuring that our economy continues to grow to support our quality of life and to help expand environmental protection.

Christine Todd Whitman
I've enjoyed this opportunity to talk about the important environmental issues that we face, and I encourage everyone who didn't have their questions answered or who is interested in our initiatives to go to the EPA Web site,, for more information. Please keep your interest in the environment, because it will take all of us working together to reach the next level of environmental protection.

Thank you and Happy Earth Day!