U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Director Christine Todd Whitman tried to be funny at this year's annual Gridiron Dinner for Washington journalists, like the night's other speakers, but one of Whitman's zingers makes me shudder. Indeed, she preceded her comment by suggesting that this joke hits "close to home":
"When you give a Republican a choice between [less] poison and less regulation, we need some time to think about it."
What exactly was this supposed to mean? I think I know: Whitman's underlying assumption, which hit "close to home," is the belief that Republicans are reluctant to regulate alleged environmental hazards "poisons" because doing so would require punitive action against corporations which, in turn, make donations to Republicans.
This simplistic, unscientific "reasoning" is disturbing and leaves one with the impression that Mrs. Whitman and her EPA staff would prefer knee-jerk reactions with no time to "think about it" if an environmental advocate shouts "poison" or "toxin" or "carcinogen." Don't think, don't ask questions about dose, don't ask for evidence that a threat to health exists just regulate.
If we were loony enough to apply such thinking to naturally occurring "poisons" (toxins), we would ban large portions of our food supply, including potatoes and shrimp (since both naturally contain arsenic), lima beans (cyanide), and spinach (nitrate). Many chemicals merit the term "poison" or "toxin," but these are only hazardous when the dose is sufficient. And that fact means it takes "time to think about it" before prudent action is taken, as Christine Whitman should know.