WASHINGTON — Six former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency — five Republicans and one Democrat — accused the Bush administration Wednesday of neglecting global warming and other environmental problems.
“I don’t think there’s a commitment in this administration,” said Bill Ruckelshaus, who was EPA’s first administrator when the agency opened its doors in 1970 under President Nixon and headed it again under President Reagan in the 1980s.
Russell Train, who succeeded Ruckelshaus in the Nixon and Ford administrations, said slowing the growth of “greenhouse” gases isn’t enough.
“We need leadership, and I don’t think we’re getting it,” he said at an EPA-sponsored symposium centered around the agency’s 35th anniversary. “To sit back and just push it away and say we’ll deal with it sometime down the road is dishonest to the people and self-destructive.”
All of the former administrators and EPA’s current chief, Stephen Johnson, raised their hands when asked by the event moderator whether they believe global warming is a real problem, and again when he asked if humans bear significant blame.
But agency heads during five Republican administrations, including the current one, criticized the Bush White House for what they described as a failure of leadership.
$20 billion spent on climate
Defending his boss, Johnson said the current administration has spent $20 billion on research and technology to combat climate change after President Bush rejected mandatory controls on carbon dioxide, the chief gas blamed for trapping heat in the atmosphere like a greenhouse.
Bush also kept the United States out of the Kyoto international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases globally, saying it would harm the U.S. economy, after many of the accord’s terms were negotiated by the Clinton administration.
“I know from the president on down, he is committed,” Johnson said. “And certainly his charge to me was, and certainly our team has heard it: ‘I want you to accelerate the pace of environmental protection. I want you to maintain our economic competitiveness.’ And I think that’s really what it’s all about.”
His predecessors disagreed. Lee Thomas, Ruckelshaus’s successor in the Reagan administration, said that “if the United States doesn’t deal with those kinds of issues in a leadership role, they’re not going to get dealt with. So I’m very concerned about this country and this agency.”
Bill Reilly, the EPA administrator under the first President Bush, echoed that assessment.
“The time will come when we will address seriously the problem of climate change, and this is the agency that’s best equipped to anticipate it,” he said.
Christie Whitman, the first of three EPA administrators in the current Bush administration, said people obviously are having “an enormous impact” on the earth’s warming.
“You’d need to be in a hole somewhere to think that the amount of change that we have imposed on land, and the way we’ve handled deforestation, farming practices, development, and what we’re putting into the air, isn’t exacerbating what is probably a natural trend,” she said. “But this is worse, and it’s getting worse.”
Carol Browner, who was President Clinton’s EPA administrator, said the White House and the Congress should push legislation to establish a carbon trading program based on a 1990 pollution trading program that helped reduce acid rain.
“If we wait for every single scientist who has a thought on the issue of climate change to agree, we will never do anything,” she said. “If this agency had waited to completely understand the impacts of DDT, the impacts of lead in our gasoline, there would probably still be DDT sprayed and lead in our gasoline.”
Three former administrators did not attend Wednesday’s ceremony: Mike Leavitt, now secretary of health and human services; Doug Costle, who was in the Carter administration, and Anne Burford, a Reagan appointee who died last year.
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