Republican former EPA administrators raise concerns about Trump agency

Christine Todd Whitman, William Reilly and Lee Thomas testified before Congress about the leadership of the EPA, which they rated a "D, or lower."
12:44 | 06/11/19

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Transcript for Republican former EPA administrators raise concerns about Trump agency
Thanks for the opportunity it's so rare to see so many former EPA administrators Republicans and Democrats together. In one place what message are you trying to send here we. I think. Message to play all seven of us who wrote the letter to this community. Was that EPA it's an incredibly important agency. It has always enjoyed bipartisan support. And we'll quite concerned about the direction EPA's taken in this administration and we want to talk to the oversight committee about our concerns about the role we think they need to play in the human those. Sir in the three of view we should say are Republicans Bill O'Reilly you served in the George Herbert walker Bush Administration. Our Christine Whitman you are George W bush administration. And we you were in the Reagan administrations don't hear it here. We won't call you an appetite but you do have familiarity with Republican politics we went to the EPA. Become anathema to Republicans at least it certainly seems that way right now in this town. Isn't it shouldn't. It was started by a Republican. Richard Nixon it's been. Fifteen years that the environment has become more out there rail. It's one of those things that unfortunately in Washington. So much slip to the partisan political prism policy prism. They look for ways to divide and environment awaited because. We've been successful actually he is really good job cleaning up our here water making healthier environment healthier. We still more to do and starting the backside which is well here worry about that part. If there's more to do it. It's because we've been things are better people sees Clinton's immediate issue as if you're to give agreed. To the leadership of the EPA right now and that stewardship that they are doing with their mission which is to protect the environment human health a letter grade. What letter grade would you give. Yeah I'm right in that same category. Here so it's a very difficult situation what concerns you most. I'm really concerned about disrespect science scene frustration undermining. Its importance. Its. That sending a message to young people. Don't care now trying to confuse issues like climate change to me that's an enormous enormous thing facing seven grandchildren. The rule. And air clean water and day. Kind of environment and sustainable. Really worry rolling back regulations part actually what would President Reagan. Say about the state of affairs at the appear right now. Well we had a very similar situation in 1983. Tremendous controversy. The agency was in turmoil. And what President Reagan said was we need to change we need change and as a result he got bill raucous house came back come back and we totally change the management. We changed the whole direction got back to the mission of the agency so I think that's what President Reagan would say look that's not how want us agents in up. You do you think bill that the doing anything right right now is there anything from point two NC that's actually. Surprisingly on track look. So it through. Investigators have caused us to load the bar quite significantly but the budget is then can. Kept up reasonably well or better than I would be despite the threats have got to get inflation weighed close advisor to and they serve. But that's good and the administration's proposals to cut the budget by a third and to cut the staff there congress' happily ignored. I think on this question of where Republicans stand in our Q poll people the United States. They are extremely supportive over air and water quality laws. The congress doesn't get. Sort of evil politics likes to make points at the expense of the agency because the regulatory agency none of this ever gave any mind who you made people happy. Restrained activity that was important because in. You can swim and nation what are that you couldn't and that when we started. But. If there's a problem. Flint, Michigan. The same people who are saying they really don't trust EB they say we're witty yet. They have expectations he's he's so that they're operating on two levels. And I wish that works but it is a point scoring thing with partner Republican base to attack he he and so that's the way it happens. Governor Whitman if you were back at EPA tomorrow packing your old job maybe that's a scary thought but it could benefit. What what's the first thing you would do what's that the top line. Most urgent order of business Reuters news all hands meeting and we're back on track we hear our job is to protect human health and the entire. That's what we're about and. An are all you hear anything from rank and file members are you in touch with career staff who work there now where what you hear when my advice. Is he stayed through the years but the early eighties that Lee referred to a minute ago there were very bleak for you the where the leadership was very poor. And where there was a deregulated running a regulatory agency. I inherited we inherited. She inherited Chris Christie inherited some of those fine people. I think there's every reason for them to stay in place we have the statute the statute says there I don't think conference is gonna try to pack them. This and act some of those strong laws and I hope that the Goodman's stick it out because I think that the current violence is temporary. Your message news regained some of your testimony is basically enforce the laws a lot on the books already they should be of. Absolutely and the aid you know that congress has given EPA tough job they save you gonna make tough decisions. You making decisions about individual rights verses community rights and so. They've got to have the capacity to in fact. Make those decisions that's what the laws are all about they've got to be guided by those laws. And I would tell yet. Even though I agree with bill to some extent about the budget I'm very concerned about the fact that we are seeing. Downgrade her or we're seeing good people leave that he Nancy Drew and the last thing you want is good solid technical people leave any EPA. I can talk from a business point of view or a government when he viewed Unita and Egypt's it is credible. Has consistency in that room making any science based in that movement and Arafat that is a youth. Common refrain all of you it's that you expressed concern about science. Being given a vaccine in this debate right now I'm gonna mention. Spoken remarks today. That they just had a meeting last week to report that was told Reuters the United States enforcement it was a policy issue. Science played almost all. I mean that's extraordinary to me and it including a fall for their do it is is that a leadership at the top issue and we noticed president's view. He means you EPA administrator you know sent policy the White House its policy you. Given the best advice tell when you think they're on the right track on track how to do what they want to do the best way possible while still being protective of them nation. It stints at the top. We we sat down with it. Mr. Wheeler just about a month or so ago justice he was it's true justice he was confirmed. Our job and asked him if he thinks that climate change as the president has said is a hoax. And perhaps reassuringly he said it's not a hoax he doesn't think it's Oakes visits to rural phenomenon. But he said he doesn't think it's a crisis he doesn't think it's at this stage worst case scenario stage that's laid out in the national climate assessment. Not the only thing says national assessment area or were there are several categories of possibilities is business as usual and then there's an intervention serious intervention. That's unfair characterization. Of the assessment. He yeah assessment. Does best by pointing to the fact that if nothing changes we continue business as you. It is catastrophic it's probably six degrees character which will. Destroy a lot of species cause huge amounts estimated 200 million migrants to take to the road. But this take isn't it true now that the air and it is clear than it's ever been the water in this country cleaner than it's ever been. The United States is actually a leader in rolling back carbon. Pollution and in fact has been. You know continuing to dial back its own emissions is and is not something we hear from the president a lot that we should be celebrate. Harper emissions are twenty times Japan's under ten years. We do and that is the issue we're the number to letter to cut and one of the biggest reasons that. Carbon emissions have gone down as do more with economics than it has to do with anything this administration has to line if anything's natural gas yeah exactly and that and the cost of that vs alternatives though. That's been a dramatic change in this country's had an impact passed over. That impact is about change I mean we've just that taken advantage of that is for its emission reductions and with growth we're now beginning to see those those emissions creep back up. Do you think we need do you think we needed to green new deal mean do you think tick to counter this we need to go over that night thinker who. But unfortunately they put everything but the kitchen sink in the green new deal which is distraction and you're gonna have to pick out parts and work on its environmental point of view it it's disappointing because it did have things outside of the environment and that. Which. I think undermined the message. And it's too important message we really do need to focus on the empire and I've said for awhile now and I think water as the number one issue on the quality. Around the world and that is affected by climate change and it's affecting climate change it's one of those things that simply. The green new deal did something really wonderful. I am told by so many Republican members of congress that they are never asked about climate when they go on the stump when they go homes and another arrest. That is marvelous it's included on the agenda it's raised the profile got a lot of vitality protecting young people. The green new deal is a good thing. This is a talking point and I guess let's end on and on an up note in this great conversation. What makes you most hopeful right now. That we can turn things around that we can get back on the right track with the environment in this country. The fact that we have an oversight hearings in the beginning to talk about some of the problems here in need to be corrected. I mean that gives me hope it congress will take a lead would you want congress to do. I'd like congress do a couple things one I'd like on to ask really tough questions about the agency and what it's doing. See if they can't push to what's correction in some of its things like tax dealing with. External science that kind of thing I'd also like on the come to grips with some of the ambiguity in existing law. They need to deal with climate change very difficult to deal with it comprehensively under the Clean Air Act we know that. Congress ought to come to grips with a my opinion we need to build. Cost of Cobb and into the overall economic cycle in this country begin to drive away from carbon based economy. And I think the I think they economic approaches the right approach but congress needs to come to grips with it. Not just continue to say hey EPA you not doing enough EPA can do some things under existing law. Methane room would be a good example but congress needs to come groups that coats had even to the point. What does the United States we've been grappling with an issue for the wrong time Ari congress give us and a more specific definition. Make some of the tough decisions and let us get only. Do you think it's gonna take this next presidential election to really galvanizes. That this movement to figure one step further I'm really hopeful it's as bill mentioned. Thing about the green new deal was elevating the issue for the first time in my memory. And environmental issue is going to be a major part of a political campaign for the presidency I haven't seen before. And it's not gonna go away and that's good and I might hope this will be young people. The people who really it's their future. I just came off aboard a major company and one of the things that we are finding it's when you are recruiting. One of the first questions that the young people I guess it's Janet I don't know. Could have kept it doesn't accurately you characterize them but the one thing what is your commitment to the environment what are you doing on water usage on clean there. And that was part of how did. It work and that's a wonderful thing Christine that's pushing Christine Whitman Bill O'Reilly Lee Thomas thank you so much for great conversation. Mr. Joseph.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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