USA: Environmental Groups Critique Choice of New EPA Head

Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, a Republican who favors strengthening the power of states over environmental regulation, has been chosen by President George W. Bush to be administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If confirmed by the Senate, Leavitt will replace former EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey who resigned in May.
Environmental groups reacted to the nomination with disappointment and warnings that the nominee must assure the nation he will not cater to developers. Business organizations were generally pleased with the President's choice.

Announcing his choice for the EPA's top post today at the Marriott Hotel in Aurora, Colorado, President Bush said, "I selected Mike Leavitt because he is a trusted friend, a capable executive and a man who understands the obligations of environmental stewardship. With the Senate's approval, Mike Leavitt will lead an agency with 18,000 dedicated employees in offices all across our country."

Accepting the nomination, Governor Leavitt told a story about visiting the Grand Canyon when he was eight years old and then again 36 years later as governor of Utah. "This time," he said, "there was a brown haze across the same place where that beautiful clear vista had been before. This time, I was there to co-chair a commission that had been charged under the Clean Air Act to rescue that view."

"Now, any environmental problem that involves 13 states, and 13 tribal nations, and three federal agencies, and the private sector, and a long list of environmental groups had complexities and had disagreements, and this was absolutely no exception to that," said the governor. "But in the end, we worked together to develop a plan that will clean up the air over the Grand Canyon. It's left a lasting impact, not just on the Grand Canyon, but on me. It has changed the way we resolve environmental problems and disputes in the west, and I think it's safe to say, in the entire country."

Governor Leavitt, Utah's governor since 1993, is currently the longest-serving state chief executive in the country. He is the former chair of the National Governors Association, the Western Governors Association, the Republican Governors Association and the Council of State Governments.

President Bush said today, "Governor Leavitt has led Utah and other western states to significant environmental improvements through leadership, consensus building and partnerships. Today, Utah meets all federal air quality standards. This was not the case at the beginning of the Leavitt Administration."

"Utah also has the nation's cleanest watersheds, and they have improved significantly during his tenure," the President said. "Seventy-three percent of Utah's streams currently meet federal water quality standards, compared to 59 percent a decade ago."

"Utah's most environmentally sensitive lands are better protected because of his service," said President Bush. "He protected 500,000 acres of Utah's state lands that are surrounded by national parks, monuments, recreation areas and wilderness study areas. He also helped establish Utah's Quality Growth Commission, which has conserved approximately 35,000 acres of critical land forever, protecting wildlife, watersheds, and historical and agricultural assets in the state."

Governor Leavitt described his environmental philosophy in a Latin word, "in libra." He explained that, "It means to move toward balance. To me, there is an inherent human responsibility to care for the Earth."

"But there's also an economic imperative that we're dealing with in a global economy to do it less expensively," Leavitt said. "And Mr. President, it's your commitment to both that has enlisted me to this cause."

Environmental groups were quick to warn against the President's choice. Mark Van Putten, president of the National Wildlife Federation, the nation's largest member-supported conservation group, said, The President has nominated Governor Leavitt to head the EPA at a time when the agencys credibility has been put into question over suppression of scientific and economic findings that run counter to White House policy."

The centerpiece of the hearings on this nomination must be Governor Leavitts commitment to stand behind and fully disclose the research conducted by agency staff," Van Putten said.

Doug Scott, policy director of Campaign for America's Wilderness, expressed disappointment on behalf of his organization, a national effort to permanently protect the nation's last wild lands by placing them into a National Wilderness Preservation System.

"President Bush had the opportunity to name someone with a record of working with citizens to protect the environment," Scott said. "Instead, he has selected Governor Leavitt--most recently known for cutting backdoor deals and settlements with the Interior Department that abandoned protections for six million acres of wilderness-quality lands in his state and placed tens of millions of acres of such lands across the West on a silver platter for development interests."

Scott said, "Our nation's wilderness heritage should not be for sale, nor determined by narrow and parochial special interests. Governor Leavitt's poor record on wilderness protections in his home state does not bode well for the American people, who believe they should have a voice in how their environment is protected."

The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council Executive Director Scott Segal said the coalition of utilities that "works for a rational clean air policy," is "pleased that a governor with a strong record of consensus building is President Bush's choice to head EPA."

One of the important issues the governor will face as soon as he steps into office, said Segal, will be clarifying the term "routine maintenance" under the New Source Review (NSR) program under the Clean Air Act.

"The governor's Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has been a strong advocate for reforming the NSR program," Segal said, referring to the Bush administration's efforts to streamline the New Source Review program to relieve electricity generators of having to install the best available technology for all equipment upgrades.

"He has provided leadership on air issues with the Western Regional Air Partnership that has improved air quality and visibility," Segal said. "Utah and the region's air is demonstrably cleaner during the Leavitt administration."

But Emily Figdor, clean air advocate with U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, said the nomination of Governor Leavitt to head the EPA is part of the Bush administration's "dismal record of failing to protect America's air, land, and water."

"Governor Leavitt has been a vocal supporter of the Bush administration's so-called Clear Skies Initiative, a bill that would endanger public health and the environment by allowing old and dirty power plants to pump millions of additional tons of pollution into our skies," Figdor said. "Leavitt supports the Bush's administration's do-nothing approach to global warming and opposes the Kyoto Protocol.

In April, Figdor said, "Leavitt cut a secret deal with Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton that will leave millions of acres of pristine lands open to mining, drilling, roadbuilding, and other development."

President of the National Environmental Trust Philip Clapp said, "Giving the job to Mike Leavitt is like putting John Ashcroft in charge of the [American Civil Liberties Union] ACLU."

"The administrator of EPA is the nation's principal enforcer of the laws and regulations protecting clean air, clean water and drinking water. His philosophy on all these is: less regulation, no matter what the cost to public health and the environment. I can't think of too many governors more hostile to government regulations than Mike Leavitt."

Governor Leavitt has adopted the positions of the National Governors' Association (NGA) on most environmental issues, which generally support more authority for states with regard to environmental regulations. For instance, Leavitt supports more state autonomy on brownfields and Superfund cleanups as does NGA policy.

In line with NGA policy on the UN Kyoto climate protocol, which the Bush administration has declined to ratify, Leavitt supports continued research and "voluntary partnerships to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while achieving other economic and environmental goals," instead of the emissions limits mandated under the protocol for industrialized countries.

Governor Leavitt fought the storage of high-level nuclear waste in Utah on the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes Reservation. Leavitt says, "We don't produce this waste; we shouldn't store it. We are pursuing every possible strategy to keep this lethally hot waste out of Utah." The proposed nuclear storage site was defeated.

Under Governor Leavitt's leadership, Utah was ranked as the best financially managed state in the nation by USA Today in June 2003, President Bush pointed out today. And the President gave Governor Leavitt credit for successfully hosting the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Prior to being elected to governor, Leavitt joined the Leavitt Group, a regional insurance firm. He eventually became president and chief executive officer of the company. He also was a member of the Utah State Board of Regents, overseeing the state's nine colleges and universities. Governor Leavitt earned his bachelor's degree in economics and business from Southern Utah State University.

Explore Governor Leavitt's environmental policies online at:

AMP Section Name:Climate Justice Initiative

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