Members of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) heard much of what they wanted to hear when EPA Administrator Christie Whitman spoke to them Tuesday at a briefing breakfast in Washington, D.C.
Whitman called for a "new approach" to environmental protection, one that avoids regulation in favor of voluntary partnerships and more flexible enforcement strategies.
The new EPA administrator said two factors had delayed her in implementing the more business-friendly approach to environmental regulation. She said she had spent most of her time thus far reviewing more than one hundred regulations issued in the final days of the Clinton administration. A second problem has been the delay in getting her leadership team approved by the Senate.
Achieving the next generation of environmental protections and meeting the nation''s energy needs are two of the most important challenges of the 21st century, Whitman contended.
"We have addressed the low-hanging fruit," when it comes to environmental regulation, she argued. "The challenges today are more subtle."
As examples, she cited the problem of controlling pollution that comes from multiple sources, such as fertilizer run-offs from farms and lawns, and oil run-offs from parking lots.
Whitman''s new approach emphasizes partnerships with business, and she cited EPA''s Energy Star Program as an example of a voluntary program that works.
Speaking the day after President Bush provoked controversy by voicing doubts about global warming, Whitman touched on the subject only to illustrate the effectiveness of voluntary programs.
"The reduction in greenhouse gases because of energy star programs last year was equivalent to eliminating emissions from 10 million cars," she said.
With respect to enforcement Whitman declared, "I don''t care what you do in your plant -- we don''t'' need to micromanage."
Her approach, she said, is to set emission standards and allow companies to meet them any way they choose.
Calls to ease the "new source reviews" required by the Clean Air Act came from NAM members during the question period and in opening remarks by Jerry Jasinowski, NAM''s president. The manufacturers argued that current rules are too stringent, because they require costly compliance measures when a company expands or modifies an existing facility.
Whitman said the issue was under review and expressed some sympathy for NAM members'' views.
"I''ve heard too many instances where rules were interpreted too literally and have hindered environmental progress," she said.
by James Nash