- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

News that Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman was unaware that her agency had released a potentially explosive report contradicting President Bush's position on global warming was shocking to some, but hardly a surprise. Her latest embarrassment is part of an emerging pattern at EPA, suggesting not isolated cases of internal miscommunication, but a campaign of political sabotage, waged by ideologues within, to undermine both Mrs. Whitman and the Bush administration.

Mrs. Whitman's admission that she only learned about the global warming report "when I read it in the paper," and evident failure to recognize its political ramifications, leant credence to critics on both the left and right, who accuse Mrs. Whitman of being clueless and the administration of being rudderless.

The EPA has interjected itself into three other recent controversies in ways that seem similarly designed to providing ammunition to administration detractors, raising doubts about whether Mrs. Whitman has control over what appears to be a rogue agency.

In one case, EPA insiders leaked to the media memos opposing Department of Defense efforts to win exemptions from environmental regulations that are hurting military readiness by impeding use of live-fire training ranges. The exemptions are particularly important in the wake of a recent court decision to suspend Navy live-fire training at Farallon de Medinella, a tiny Pacific Ocean atoll, because it violates the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The suit, brought by environmental groups, has the potential to shut down virtually any military training facility visited by migratory birds, and is one of many "encroachment" battles the Pentagon is facing on the home front as it wages a war on terrorism abroad.

In the second case, officials in EPA's Denver office publicly criticized the quality of environmental studies done by the Bureau of Land Management related to coal bed methane gas development in Wyoming's Powder River Basin threatening to scuttle one of the most promising new drilling projects in the nation. EPA's "unsatisfactory" rating of BLM's environmental assessments reportedly blindsided and angered Department of Interior officials and handed ammunition to groups working to block the project.

Only days later, in the third case, EPA's Denver office was at it again, this time arguing that Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks should be closed to snowmobiles interjecting itself into a Department of Interior decision that many Westerners see as a test of whether the Bush administration will pursue the exclusionist, recreationally correct land policies of the Clinton era. EPA's letter backing a snowmobile ban came as a complete surprise to Mrs. Whitman and a highly displeased Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who sets policy for national parks. The two perhaps by coincidence, perhaps not were having lunch together on the very day that EPA's anti-snowmobile stance hit the papers.

Mrs.Whitman's tenure at EPA has been rocky from the start, when she lurched back and forth on the arsenic in drinking water issue, making a gesture in the direction of caution and common sense before pushing ahead with a Clinton administration standard that will impose huge compliance costs for many cash-strapped U.S. communities with nominal health benefits.

Yet it is hard to determine whether Mrs. Whitman's erratic performance is the result of her own managerial or philosophical inconsistencies, a lack of consensus and direction at the top of the Bush administration on environmental issues, or the fact that she's riding a tiger EPA that won't be tamed.

The agency is brimming over with more than its share of crusaders who, with arrogance typical of the type, seem to believe that they know best what is best for America.

Mrs. Whitman by all appearances has had a hard time imposing internal order, resulting in several high profile, politically damaging mutinies. One Clinton-era holdover that headed the agency's enforcement division left in a public huff, accusing the administration of setting the polluters loose on the United States. And another, its ombudsman, resigned after accusing Mrs. Whitman of having a conflict of interest involving a Colorado Superfund site.

These actions, combined with the fact that so many of them have caught Mrs. Whitman by surprise, seems to suggest that EPA's career crusaders intend to advance their own agendas independent of the administration's. So if Mrs. Whitman can't or won't tame the tiger, and impose some order and discipline on her rogue EPA underlings, than perhaps it is time for the White House to bring in someone who can.


Sean Paige is an adjunct fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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