Energy & Environment

Former EPA chiefs endorse Biden, criticize agency direction under Trump

Aaron Schwartz

A group of former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) heads, including two who served under Republican presidents, endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Monday, slamming the direction of the agency under the Trump administration.

“I’ve never seen an administration that actually seems to me to have a war against the environment and a war on science,” Christine Todd Whitman, a former Republican governor from New Jersey who ran the EPA under then-President George W. Bush, said in a call with reporters.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has a very simple mission. It’s to protect human health in the environment. This administration seems determined not only to do away with it but to turn its back aggressively on that mandate,” she added.

The call, hosted by the Biden campaign, is the latest in a string of endorsements the campaign is seeking to highlight from prominent Republicans.

Former EPA administrators have been particularly vocal in criticizing the Trump administration, testifying before lawmakers and writing letters condemning the agency.

Their endorsement of Biden repeated many of those themes and praised the former vice president’s climate plan, which would transition the U.S. to a net-zero economy by 2050.

“We need to reconcile the environmental protection with the economic aspirations that we have,” said Bill Reilly, who led the EPA under former President George H.W. Bush.

“I take that to be something that [Biden] has always done sensitively with information and sophistication,” he added.

Gina McCarthy, who led the agency during the Obama-Biden years, called his plan “the boldest in its ambition and urgency of any that any president has ever outlined.”

“It promotes workers and environmental justice to create good quality jobs. It creates equitable economic opportunities,” she added. “It puts clean energy as the path forward because he recognizes that that is our future both environmentally and to address climate change and to grow an economy that is beneficial for everyone.”

The former administrators also took shots at current EPA head Andrew Wheeler, who earlier Monday claimed the agency had reduced greenhouse gas emissions and done more to protect the environment than most other administrations.

“We have done more in the first four years of the Trump administration to improve the environment than probably any administration except perhaps during the very first years of EPA,” Wheeler said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

That offended some of the former administrators on the call.

“How dare he compare himself to Bill Ruckelshaus, who served two different terms as EPA administrator and launched the agency in a very, very significant way, making it about protecting the health of the American people,” said Carol Browner, who headed EPA during the Clinton administration. 

“Mr. Wheeler is no Mr. Ruckelshaus,” she added.

The former administrators accused the agency of playing politics with environmental standards.

“Clean air, clean water — these are things that don’t respect Republican or Democrat lines, red states or blue states. We all should care about it. This administration doesn’t seem to unless they think that there’s a political gain to be made,” Todd Whitman said, referencing Trump’s recent announcement to extend a drilling moratorium off the coast of Florida.

“But when you have states like in the New England area, New Jersey, New York that don’t want to see it … it’s going to happen here. So it’s something I’ve never seen before, the use of politics against the environment the way this administration is doing it,” he added.

Tags 2020 2020 campaign 2020 endorsements Andrew Wheeler Christine Todd Whitman Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency EPA Gina McCarthy Joe Biden
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