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President Nominates Utah Governor Leavitt for EPA Administrator (11-06-03)

Most Recent Action

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R) was sworn in during a private ceremony on November 6th as the U.S. EPA's 10th administrator. There was no fanfare; Leavitt simply got down to business holding meetings with EPA management and staff. A short press statement on EPA's Web site said Leavitt "pledged to seek collaboration in the application of a balanced set of environmental principles to protect the nation's environment."

According to Environment and Energy Daily, Marianne Horinko, the acting EPA administrator for most of the time between Leavitt's confirmation and the resignation of former EPA chief Christie Whitman, returns to her old position as the agency's assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Acting Deputy Administrator Stephen Johnson will remain in his current post until he is either nominated by the White House to keep the job or the Senate confirms another administration pick. (11/6/03)

Current Congress

A two-month impasse over the nomination of Utah Governor Mike Leavitt (R) ended on the morning of October 28th as he was approved by the Senate 88-8 to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The overwhelming margin of support speaks to Governor Leavitt's popularity with lawmakers he has worked with over the years. It's also a major political victory for President Bush considering Democratic presidential candidates Joe Lieberman (CT), John Kerry (MA) and John Edwards (NC) were among the half-dozen Senators threatening to "hold" Leavitt's nomination indefinitely.

In the end, 36 Democrats and Vermont independent James Jeffords joined all 51 Senate Republicans to confirm Leavitt. Remaining in opposition were Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jon Corzine (D-NJ), Mark Dayton (D-MN), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), John Rockefeller (D-WV), and Charles Schumer (D-NY). Edwards, Kerry, Lieberman and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) did not vote.

Leavitt is expected to resign as the Governor of Utah in the coming days and arrive back in Washington around November 5th for his swearing in ceremony. According to Greenwire, acting EPA Administrator Marianne Horinko is expected to return to her former position as the agency's assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Acting EPA Deputy Administror Stephen Johnson is expected to remain at his current post until he is either nominated by the White House to keep the job or the Senate confirms a different administration nominee. (10/28/03)

In a roll call vote on October 15, 2003 the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee approved the nomination of Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The committee's approval sends the nomination to the Senate floor and marks the next stage in a contentious, highly partisan dispute over Leavitt's nomination and Bush's environmental record. While opponents of the nomination have repeatedly stated that they take no issue with Leavitt, they do demand that Bush answer for what they see as his abysmal environmental record. An October 1st meeting on the same subject failed to reach a quorum after an unprecedented boycott by minority senators. Dissatisfied with Leavitt's answers to more than 400 questions regarding the Administration's environmental record, the senators held up the meeting until Leavitt provided more detailed responses to their inquiries. Only Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), also a candidate for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, voted against Leavitt at the October 15th meeting. Yes-votes from the remaining dissenters at the committee meeting did not necessarily foreshadow their continued support of the nomination in the full Senate, however. Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) underscored this idea, telling the committee that he would "withhold a judgment of how I will vote on the floor."

In his opening statement, Committee Chair James Inhofe (R-OK) voiced general Republican disgust with Democratic intransigence, citing a Los Angeles Times editorial (free registration required) by Gregg Easterbrook that criticized Democratic political posturing surrounding Leavitt's nomination and Bush's environmental record. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) termed the delay a "platform for other purposes," while Sen. Bob Voinovich (R-OH) pointed out the tremendous cost of environmental initiatives such as substituting natural gas for other forms of energy. Clinton countered by mentioning the mounting health care costs and death toll arising from poor air quality.

Besides Clinton and Lieberman, two other senators and presidential hopefuls, John Edwards (D-NC) and John Kerry (D-MA), have vowed to procedurally block or "hold" Leavitt's confirmation by the full Senate until Leavitt or the White House provide information on several environmental issues. (10/15/03)

Following his confirmation hearing on September 23, 2003, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator nominee Mike Leavitt (R) faces over 400 post-hearing questions and fierce opposition by some Democratic members of the Senate Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee. Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), however, was confident that Leavitt would gain approval in an Oct. 1 committee vote, despite needing all 10 Republican and at least 2 Democratic votes to cut off debate and allow the nomination to proceed.

Should Inhofe be correct, Leavitt will face his staunchest challenge once he comes before the full Senate. Four Democratic senators -- Hillary Clinton (NY), Joseph Lieberman (CT), John Kerry (MA) and John Edwards (NC) -- have vowed to procedurally block Leavitt's confirmation until the Bush Administration adequately answers questions regarding its environmental record. According to a report from E&E Daily, a fifth senator, Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV), will place holds on all non-military nominees until Bush appoints Reid staffer Gregory Jaczko to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. None of the detractors have criticized Leavitt himself.

Republicans can override these holds by filing a cloture motion if and when the EPW committee approves Leavitt. Under this provision, 30 hours of Senate floor debate would culminate in a vote requiring 60 supporters for passage. Failing that, another 30 hours of debate would ensue, followed by a simple majority vote. Filing a cloture motion is unpalatable to many Republican senators, because it would provide Democrats with a forum in which to scrutinize the Administration's environmental record. Scheduling 30-60 hours of Senate floor debate would also be difficult in a Senate agenda already packed with appropriations bills. Said one senior Inhofe aide, according to E&E Daily, the cloture motion is not a "go-to strategy" for the Republican leadership.

Leavitt has assured reporters that he will not resign as governor until he is confirmed by the Senate. (9/29/03)

On September 23, 2003, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a confirmation hearing for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator nominee Utah Governor Mike Leavitt (R). The mood remained cordial during discussions on Leavitt's character and past experience, but Senate Democrats became critical when quizzing Leavitt on his reaction to several controversial White House policies that he would confront as EPA Administrator. They spent much of the hearing denouncing what they viewed as President Bush's abysmal environmental record, and Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) chastised them for using the hearing to attack the Administration. Leavitt remained noncommittal on current EPA policy, instead focusing on his skills as a "problem solver" and his efforts to mitigate air pollution over the Grand Canyon. Environmental groups, on the other hand, have been less enthusiastic about Leavitt's record. The National Environmental Trust, for example, has created a web site sporting the slogan "The Environment: Love It or Leavitt!"

This discord underscored the frustrations faced by any EPA administrator. Republicans and Democrats alike emphasized these difficulties, asking Leavitt incredulously why he was interested in such a challenging job. Leavitt has already encountered one obstacle in Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton (NY), Joseph Lieberman (CT), John Kerry (MA) and John Edwards (SC), who have vowed to procedurally block Leavitt's confirmation until the White House answers a number of environmental questions. Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to block the nomination until Bush appoints his top nuclear advisor, Gregory Jaczko, to one of two vacant seats on the five member Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (9/24/03)

On August 11, President Bush nominated Utah Governor Michael O. Leavitt to be the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator. The selection of the three-term Republican demonstrates the administration's preference for a decentralized approach to environmental issues characteristic of Western states. Leavitt claims his success at improving air quality in the Grand Canyon demonstrates his record as a moderate consensus-builder. Detractors describe his policies of opening public lands in Utah to road-building and industry as a pattern of undermining environmental protections. A major clash over the future of environmental policy under the EPA appears likely when confirmation hearings are scheduled in the fall.

The president introduced his nominee by pledging that Leavitt would shift environmental regulation out of Washington. According to Bush, Leavitt "rejects the old ways of command and control from above" and, "respects the ability of state and local governments." If confirmed, Leavitt is expected to shift power to the states by applying the "Enlibra Principles" of environmental management that he developed with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber (D) to the EPA mandate. The principles, which Leavitt has widely touted, emphasize decentralization, separating policymaking from data-gathering, relying on financial incentives instead of regulation, and applying cost-benefit analysis. They were adopted as policy by the Western Governor's Association in 2002. (8/11/03)

Background

Utah Governor and nominee for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Mike Leavitt (R) claims his "very clear environmental philosophy" is based on balance and seeking collaborative solutions in the "constructive middle" of polarized issues. As an example, the governor cites his successful effort that brought together states, tribal Indian nations, federal agencies, the private sector and environmental groups to improve air quality in southern Utah through the Western Regional Air Partnership. He has received wide praise for his role as co-chair of this diverse coalition that developed a cap-and-trade air pollution reduction plan to improve visibility in the scenic region. Also in Leavitt's win column is his acclaimed effort to prevent the establishment of a spent nuclear fuel storage facility at Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation, about 30 miles south of the Great Salt Lake. Leavitt also initiated a commission that has preserved approximately 35,000 acres of open space. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) voiced his support for the governor's ability to forge such solutions, saying, "He has successfully navigated some of the most complex and challenging environmental issues in the nation, and he has a long record of bringing people together to make things work in a very positive way." Industry groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Reliability Coordinating Council, and National Association of Manufacturers, also expressed support for the nomination. Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, a group that represents electric utility companies, praised Leavitt's style of stressing stakeholder collaboration as one that "helps break down barriers to resolving highly charged environmental issues."

Concerns have been raised that the governor's self-described approach of collaboration over regulation, of "markets before mandates" and "national standards, neighborhood strategies" indicates a desire to roll back federal protections. Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, characterized Leavitt's approach as "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." According to Leavitt's own words, he seeks a compromise between environmental protections and economic costs. "To me, there is an inherent human responsibility to care for the earth," he said. "But there's also an economic imperative that we're dealing with in a global economy to do it less expensively."

The Sierra Club has stated that it will oppose Leavitt's nomination because of his "anti-environment" record in Utah. Two major federal lands policy decisions by the governor have drawn sharp national criticism for reversing federal protections. Last April, Leavitt negotiated an agreement with the Department of the Interior (DOI) to open millions of acres of public land that had been given interim wilderness status to mining, drilling, and road-building. Leavitt filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) charging that the agency had no authority to reject drilling and mining proposals for 3 million acres of scenic canyon-carved land that the Clinton administration had given interim wilderness status in January 2001. Leavitt's lawsuit charged that only Congress can make such designations final. The resulting settlement removed protections from a total of 6 million acres and had national implications, because BLM signaled to Congress in April that it will now only recognize congressionally designated wilderness study areas.

In another potentially precedent-setting land-use decision, Leavitt reached a Memorandum of Understanding with the DOI in April, without environmental review or public input, to loosen standards for granting exemptions to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. The move allows Utah, its counties, oil, gas, or mining companies, or off-road vehicle groups to invoke the Revised Statute 2477 (RS 2477), the regulations carrying out the 1872 Mining Law that was intended to facilitate settlement of the West by granting rights-of-way on public lands. At stake are ownership and management of thousands of miles of roads and road segments that cross federally protected lands, even those proposed for wilderness status, including national monuments. Claims on roads and tracks in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a 1.9 million-acre region of colorful canyons and sandstone formations in southern Utah's Kane County, for example, have generated fierce contention. The agreement has sparked what has been called a "land grab" by state, county, and private development interests, with over 1300 submissions made by Kane County alone, many for lands crossed only by rocky four-wheel-drive tracks. Concerns have been raised that the claims are being used to block wilderness designations or other federal protections, that they will cause increased road-building and traffic, resulting in increased pollution, damage to fragile desert terrain, fragmented wildlife habitats, invasive plant species, and increased poaching and archaeological looting.

In apparent opposition to his initiative to preserve open space, Governor Leavitt has advocated a development project that critics say would choke an ecologically sensitive region with urban sprawl. The governor's Legacy Parkway Project is a proposed four-lane highway through wetlands and sensitive shore areas along the state's Legacy Nature Preserve on the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake. Last September, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the project, ruling that the state's environmental impact statement (EIS) did not adequately consider impacts to wildlife, alternate corridors, or other transportation strategies. The Leavitt administration hopes that supplemental EIS studies will clear the way for the project.

The debate over Leavitt's environmental record may explode into a political battle over the president's own record when confirmation hearings are scheduled before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee in September. Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), a member of the EPW Committee, and John Kerry (D-MA) signaled their intention to air their views on Bush's environmental policy during the hearings. Both presidential candidates reacted to the nomination with criticism of the president and skepticism for Leavitt. According to Kerry, "While none of us should be surprised that President Bush has chosen someone who has a record of working to undermine national environmental protections, the truth is that we aren't going to have a real commitment to the environment until we have a new president." Lieberman said that the president "has the worst environmental record in history" and that the confirmation hearings will show "whether Governor Leavitt shares the same disregard for clean air, clean water, land conservation and global warming as the president. Protecting our environment is too important - and the damage done by the Bush administration too great - to confirm a nominee that does."

Another issue that may erupt in controversy during confirmation hearings is the stark regional difference between the environmental needs of the vast, often arid West, and the denser, wetter East. Some observers note that the confirmation of Leavitt, alongside DOI administrator Gale Norton of Colorado, would complete a shift of the country's environmental, conservation, and land-use decision making to westerners. According to Greenwire, Leavitt's addition to the cabinet "will increase the stature of Western issues in the nation's environmental policy making." It remains to be seen whether the decentralized approach that has been embraced by western states can be applied to the different problems facing eastern states. Leavitt has more experience dealing with public lands issues common to the West than with the environmental regulatory issues that make up most of EPA's jurisdiction and are important in the East.

A Salt Lake Tribune review of Governor Leavitt's environmental record is available at http://www.sltrib.com/specials/Leavittepa/Leavittrecord.pdf

Sources: Energy & Environment Daily, Greenwire, LATimes, New York Times, Salt Lake Tribune, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Utah Association of Counties, Utah Deparment of Transportation, Washington Post

Contributed by Brett Beaulieu, AGI/AIPG Summer 2003 Intern; Ashley M. Smith, AGI/AAPG 2003 Fall Semester Intern and Emily M. Lehr, Government Affairs Program Staff.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on November 6, 2003