President Bush said Governor Leavitt, a former chairman of the National Governors Association, “understands the importance of clear standards in every environmental policy. He respects the ability of state and local governments to meet those standards, rejects the old ways of command and control from above.”
The president made the announcement in Colorado after spending a day promoting his plan for thinning forests to prevent wildfires.
If confirmed by the Senate, Leavitt would succeed Christine Todd Whitman, a former New Jersey governor who held the post of EPA administrator for the first two and a half years of the Bush administration before resigning in May.
During her tenure, Whitman’s moderate views on the environment often lost out to concerns raised by developers and energy companies. Against her advice, President Bush also rejected an international treaty on global warming negotiated in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 by the Clinton administration.
Governor Leavitt, 52, would leave Utah a year before his third four-year term ends. He is a proponent of increasing environmental cooperation among federal, state and local officials.
His environmental record includes co-chairing the Western Regional Air Partnership of 13 states, 13 Native American tribes, three federal agencies, environmentalists and industry to reduce brown haze over the Grand Canyon. He also fought plans to build a temporary storage facility for high-level nuclear waste on an Indian reservation in western Utah.
“That experience at the Grand Canyon and a hundred others that I’ve had since that time have crystallized in me a very clear environmental philosophy. It’s called, enlibra. It’s a Latin word. 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. And Mr. President, it’s your commitment to both that has enlisted me to this cause,” he said as he stood by President Bush’s side on Monday.
Governor Leavitt gained notoriety with environmental groups when he advocated a highway extension through wetlands and wildlife habitat near the Great Salt Lake. The 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals later halted the project when it said the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t pay enough attention to wildlife needs or look at alternatives like mass transit.
Environmental groups and Senate Democrats were opposed to or at least skeptical of the president’s choice.
“Governor Mike Leavitt’s environmental track record suggests that he will be a good fit for the Bush administration but a disappointing choice for Americans concerned with environmental protection,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.
Larry Young, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said Governor Leavitt’s record on public lands, wetlands conservation and sprawl issues was unimpressive.
“It’s an appointment that fits right in line with the Bush administration record. You’re not going to see any dramatic improvement. It’s business as usual,” Young said.
Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat and presidential contender, wasted little time using the nomination to attack President Bush’s environmental record.
Senator Lieberman said that the Bush administration has logged “the worst environmental record in history,” and pledged a tough confirmation hearing for Governor Leavitt.
Governor Leavitt also oversaw his state’s preparations for and hosting of the 2002 Winter Olympics and since then has served on a presidential-appointed advisory committee on homeland security.
Born in Cedar City, Utah, Governor Leavitt graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics and business from Southern Utah University.