President-elect Donald Trump would have a difficult time trying to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, but he could “starve” it, according to a former Republican EPA administrator.
Christine Todd Whitman, an EPA administrator under President George W. Bush and a former Republican governor of New Jersey, told Morning Consult in a phone interview Monday that she expects Trump will request a smaller budget and shrink the agency’s influence, as opposed to abolishing the EPA outright.
“He can’t do it by fiat,” Whitman said. “The agency is established by law, and even he has to respect the law. What he can do is starve it. He can encourage them to cut back on enforcement, which I would presume is another step he’d want to take.”
The EPA may be a prime political target for Trump, Whitman said, because of its high-profile regulations under President Barack Obama, such as the greenhouse gas-cutting Clean Power Plan.
“It’s one of the easier targets, in my mind, simply because of the regulations,” she said. “Everybody hates regulations.”
Trump has shifted views on environmental issues since the start of his campaign in 2015. He has mentioned eliminating the EPA, as well as redirecting its work away from greenhouse gases. He also promised to revitalize the coal industry, while simultaneously advocating for its competitor: the oil and natural gas industry.
Whitman, who was EPA chief from 2001 to 2003 and now runs a consulting firm on energy and environmental policy, generally differs from Trump when it comes to the environment. She said she hopes to see the U.S. remain in the Paris agreement and has criticized the Republican Party for widely denying the science behind global warming.
Whitman supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich during the GOP presidential primary season, and she vowed not to vote for Trump in the general election. She told Morning Consult that she voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
One top contender for EPA administrator under a Trump administration, according to Reuters, is Jeff Holmstead, assistant administrator for the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation from 2001 to 2005. Holmstead is now a Washington-based attorney for Bracewell LLP, where he’s involved in the lawsuit challenging the Clean Power Plan.
“We’re not on the same page,” Whitman said about Holmstead. “I believe we should be part of the Paris accord. I believe climate change is greatly influenced by human behavior. We’re probably not on the same page, but he is someone who at least understands the agency.”
Reuters also reported that Trump is considering Robert Grady, a venture capitalist who served as associate director for natural resources at the Office of Management and Budget under President George H.W. Bush.
Trump had meetings scheduled for today with Kathleen Hartnett-White, former head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Both are considered potential nominees for the EPA or an energy-focused agency.
Whitman commented today for the first time on the Dakota Access pipeline, saying she’s concerned about the possibility of an oil spill into the Missouri River, and she stressed that the federal government has to respect the Standing Rock Sioux’s concerns.
Protests against the pipeline in North Dakota have led to violent confrontations with police, and Whitman warned that protesters could be energizing Trump by seeking to gain attention for their cause.
She said that to Trump those kinds of confrontations are “like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
Trump has expressed support for the pipeline. In his 2015 financial statement he reported owning between $500,000 and $1 million in shares of pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners, but a spokeswoman told the Washington Post that he sold his shares over the summer.