EPA administrator promises Alaskans a receptive ear

Posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Todd Whitman told an Anchorage audience Monday that environmental protection does not mean locking up resources.

''Alaskans have a right to earn a living, a good living, to provide for themselves and their families. Protecting Alaska's environment does not require impoverishing Alaska's people,'' Whitman said during a breakfast meeting of the Resource Development Council.

Whitman made a soft pitch for the Bush energy plan and its provision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But her speech contained almost no specifics about the EPA's plans in Alaska, where the federal agency is grappling with numerous issues.

Whitman has been to Alaska once before on a family vacation, one of her aides said. This trip is her first as a head of the EPA.

Over the past four days, the new EPA administrator and former New Jersey governor fished for salmon on the Kenai River, hiked in Denali National Park and Preserve, and visited Bethel and the nearby village of Napaskiak to examine rural Alaska sanitation issues.

The EPA has been one of the lead federal agencies in the long process to put toilets and running water into Alaska's rural villages. Since 1996, the EPA has spent $164 million to address rural Alaska sanitation issues such as contaminated drinking water or a lack of sewer systems.

In a five-minute press conference after her speech, Whitman said she may seek funding for a Bethel water testing lab.

Whitman repeatedly described the purpose of her trip as an opportunity to learn more about the state. She was also at pains to signal that the Bush administration would open a dialogue with Alaskans that is more receptive to local comment than the EPA under the Clinton administration.

''Washington too often forgets that being an ally requires working in partnership, not dictating from afar,'' she said.

After the morning speech, Whitman met with about 10 environmental leaders.

Mike Frank, an attorney for Trustees for Alaska, an Anchorage environmental law firm, said Whitman listened rather than talked. Frank said a range of issues were presented, including Red Dog, North Slope oil development and cruise ship discharge.

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