Christie Todd Whitman has committed some of the Bush administration's biggest gaffes to date -- most infamously, her ill-fated crusade to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions at all costs to thwart alleged global warming.
Bush Republicans are right to thwack Whitman for espousing a radical agenda that defies basic principles of limited government and economic common sense. But I'm not going to join the pinata party. There is neither sport nor valiancy in assaulting such an easy target.
The liberal Republican ex-governor of New Jersey and current head of the Environmental Protection Agency has never hidden her true colors. It's no surprise that she has embraced the EPA tradition of kowtowing to the eco-lobby and promoting junk science. President Bush knew of her green streak when he nominated her to head the EPA. So did every Republican on Capitol Hill -- yet, not a single one of them spoke against Whitman when she was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in January. The GOP has only itself to blame for the curse of Christie.
As the president embarks on his next 100 days, conservatives must reckon with the Bush administration's chief bungler on environmental issues -- not Whitman, but Bush himself.
To date, Bush has upheld Clinton-Gore era regulations on everything from lead and land grabs to washing machines and wetlands. The White House continues to perform reverse somersaults on extremist enviro pet causes such as tightening diesel and arsenic regulations to ridiculous, costly and unscientifically justified levels. Most alarming of all is the president's straddling on Al Gore's favorite hobby horse, global warming.
Bush initially scored points with conservatives when he opposed the Kyoto protocol, the international treaty on greenhouse gases drafted by scare-mongerers at the United Nations. The plan pushes draconian regulatory actions on industry despite any scientific consensus that a crisis actually exists. Whitman was excoriated for defending the basic principles of Kyoto. But it seems she's only echoing the true views of her boss. Witness Bush's remarks made in a Washington Post interview just this week:
Q: Understanding your objections to the Kyoto protocol, what do you plan to do to demonstrate that the United States is not walking away from that issue?
A: Well, that's a great question because that's the very question every one of these leaders have asked me, and my answer's always the same ... They've got to understand that the environment is of concern to this administration, that we're, I think, the first administration to ever set up mandatory reductions in ... nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury, along with other decisions I made.
(Other nations) appreciate the fact that ours is an administration that said wait a minute, the spirit is fine but the details aren't going to work and let's work together to come up with a better protocol, a better way, and we will.
Boasting about imposing "mandatory reductions" of any kind is frighteningly Gore-ific. As Bush himself reminded Gore during the campaign, the jury is still out on the primary cause of global warming (human or natural) and whether the effects might actually do more good than harm. And what exactly does Bush mean when he says the "spirit" of Kyoto is "fine"? The spirit of Kyoto is infected with what environmentalists call the "precautionary principle." This is the idea that nothing should be used, sold, emitted or otherwise approved by the world's governments until and unless it's proven safe.
If we had applied that cowering standard in the past, we wouldn't have open-heart surgery, penicillin, skyscrapers or the combustion engine. Too much caution can be as dangerous as too little. And spending billions of dollars reducing the theoretical risks of global warming means fewer resources for the real and deadly environmental risks that now plague underdeveloped nations -- like diarrhea and malaria.
Bush was supposed to restore rationality to America's approach to environmental risk in the modern world. Instead, he has sought vainly to score points with soccer moms, Sierra Club dads and MTV deadheads. The result is a pale green policy mish-mash of environmental guacamole that's thoroughly indigestible.