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Background EPA Choice: Utah Governor Mike Leavitt

President Bush nominated Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Betty Ann Bowser reports on the nimonee's political background.

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    President Bush announced his choice of Utah governor mike Leavitt to head the EPA. Late yesterday in aurora, Colorado.


    Governor Leavitt has been a leader in applying high standards in air quality, and he 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. He was twice reelected by the people of Utah, in part because he leads by consensus and focuses on results, instead of process. In Utah and beyond, he has gained wide respect for handling environmental issues in a spirit of openness and bipartisanship.


    If confirmed by the Senate, Leavitt will run the federal agency charged with protecting the nation's air, water, and land from pollution. Michael Leavitt graduated from Southern Utah University in 1978 with a bachelor's degree in economics and business. He served as president and chief executive of the Leavitt Group, a regional insurance firm. First elected as Utah's governor in 1992, the 52-year-old Leavitt is now in his third term. Since the 1990s, Leavitt has co-chaired a western partnership of states, American Indian tribes, environmentalists, and industry formed to reduce the air pollution over the Grand Canyon. Yesterday, he said he worked hard with that group to bring consensus.


    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 in Libra. 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.


    Leavitt also has been involved in disputes over opening public land to mining, drilling, and road building in his home state. In a NewsHour interview earlier this summer with correspondent Tom Bearden, Leavitt said he sought a compromise between warring camps recently in a debate over opening up wilderness areas.


    Many times I have felt that we were getting to the point it was ripe and that we could solve the problem, and each time to find that the extremes simply weren't willing to come to the table, all driven by a political agenda of their own that reflects their own values. But the land is not well-served by this. Our economic and our environmental capacity to sustain is not served by this.


    But already Leavitt is under attack by some democrats who think he's too closely tied to the Bush administration's environmental record. Presidential candidate Senator Joseph Lieberman issued this statement yesterday: "President Bush has the worst environmental record in history. The American people deserve to know whether Governor Leavitt shares the same disregard for clean air, clean water, land conservation and global warming as the President." Comments like those could set the stage for a referendum on the administration's environmental record when the Senate holds confirmation hearings next month. If confirmed, Leavitt will succeed Christie Todd Whitman who resigned in May.

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