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EPA Choice: Utah Governor Mike Leavitt

President Bush has tapped Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Experts assess the likely political and environmental impact of the Leavitt nomination.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Joining me now to assess Mike Leavitt's environmental approach, and his likely impact at EPA: In Utah, Dianne Nielson, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, and a member of Governor Leavitt's cabinet; and Chip Ward, an environmental activist and chairman of Families Against Incinerator Risk, a group active on nuclear waste issues. He is also the author of a recent book "Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West."

    And here in Washington: John Stanton, vice president of the National Environmental Trust, and former legislative counsel at the EPA during the Clinton administration; and Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents power generating companies. Welcome to you all.

    John Stanton, beginning with you, when you heard the news late yesterday, the new head of the EPA was going to be Mike Leavitt what was your reaction?

  • JOHN STANTON:

    My reaction was the same as Senator Lieberman's, that the Bush administration has the worst environmental record in the history of this country and that Governor Leavitt is really in lock step with the president. Governor Leavitt stands for two things: Getting the federal government out of the business of protecting public health and the environment and also scrapping mandatory programs to reduce pollution in favor of voluntary agreements with corporations. So I think that the governor is going to have a lot in common with the president and I think that it's bad news for the American people.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And when you say getting the federal government out of the business of regulating pollution, are you saying because he wants to turn it back on the states or just not have it done at all?

  • JOHN STANTON:

    He wants to turn it back to the states but in a way where we don't have the safeguards that allow us to have the checks and balances which are one of the hallmarks of our government, and to, you know, have delegation without accountability is really the wrong direction that we're going in especially at a time when, for instance, 180 million Americans live in parts of the country that violate public health standards for air quality.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Delegation without accountability or do you see it somewhat differently Scott Segal?

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    Well, I think that's a misconstruction of Governor Leavitt's record. In fact, Governor Leavitt has stood for a series of principles that require additional collaboration, that don't define success in terms of how many times you tromp off to court, and in that he does share in common with the president, but what I would say is if we all agree on the goals of environmental protection to clean the air, to clean the water, et cetera, the question becomes what's the best way to achieve that goal? And frankly if you can have less confrontational and more results-oriented processes, that's the better approach. In fact, Vice President Gore and Administrator Browner in their reinventing government report endorsed that very thought and said we've got to… we have to step backwards from a litigation-only approach. Governor Leavitt supports that. And I think that's better for environmental protection, for workplace safety, and for reliability of electrical power plants for sure.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Chip Ward, from dealing with the governor and from looking at his record of and being very familiar with his record, how do you think it stacks up on the kinds of issues that he's going to have to deal with at EPA?

  • CHIP WARD:

    Well, we're known in Utah for our skiing and our beautiful red rock canyons. We're not terribly known for being on the cutting edge of environmental policy or for our conservation efforts at all. So I really feel that Leavitt will be a pretty good fit for the Bush administration since I think they're very weak on the environment.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But give me a couple of examples. For instance, he touts, as we heard him in the tape piece, the work he did bringing together these governors, tribal leaders, everybody else to try to figure out a way to reduce the haze over the Grand Canyon. Give me a couple of real– examples of how his approach– how he's applied his approach and whether you think it's been successful from your perspective.

  • CHIP WARD:

    Well, I was very pleased to hear the governor's definition of enlibra. I wasn't quite sure what it meant. In practice, it seems to be Latin for "all hat and no cattle." Lately it may be Latin for back-room deals. If you're looking for skeletons in Mr. Leavitt's environmental closet, when you open that closet up, the first thing you'll probably see is whirling trout. The Leavitt family farm was in violation in 1991 of 33 counts of transporting illegally quarantined fish and introducing them into the streams and rivers in Utah. When Governor Leavitt took over, he immediately reorganized the division of Wildlife Resources so that there were no longer– it no longer had oversight over fish hatcheries and turned that oversight over to a group of fish hatchery owners who would be more, quote, sensitive to the needs of fish hatchery operations. That's kind of been the imprint. We have lots of talk but very little in the way of substantive action.

    I think that kicking people out of the tent who you consider to be extreme and then turning to those who are in the tent and saying, now, where were we, is not real civic dialogue. You have to talk to everybody, even those people who you don't like, and that's going to be difficult for Governor Leavitt to do. He doesn't really have a two-party system here. He has a one-party system. Coming to Washington is going to be a shock for him.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Dianne Nielson, I'm sure you feel quite differently. Give us– how would you describe the governor's philosophy and approach to these issues?

  • DIANNE NIELSON:

    We're talking about Governor Leavitt as administrator of the EPA, and he has been a strong leader in Utah in improving Utah's environment. The air is cleaner now than it was ten years ago. The water is cleaner, and land is better protected and better cared for. That's not a record that has gone easily. It's been a lot of hard work, but it's also been working in partnership, working as co-regulators with EPA. It has recognized the importance of building consensus, working in collaboration to make the environment better. And the way to do that is to be on the ground, improving the environment.

    John Stanton, beginning with you, when you heard the news late yesterday, the new head of the EPA was going to be Mike Leavitt what was your reaction?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Was John Stanton right when he said earlier that the two– his two main approaches involve, one, reducing the federal oversight in pollution regulation, giving it back to the states; and two, going for voluntary agreements with business rather than mandatory regulations?

  • DIANNE NIELSON:

    No, I think John is wrong on both counts. In fact, the governor has supported approaches where the states and EPA work as partners, as co-regulators, and the Western Regional Air Partnership is an excellent example of that. We're not setting aside regulations. In fact, enlibra recognizes the importance of national standards and national regulations. It does recognize the fact that we need to be able to implement regulations at the state and local level. That's the responsibility that the states have and that's the work that we've been about.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    John Stanton, look at his record in Utah. How do you assess the success or effectiveness of this approach, this consensus approach that he says he takes? Then give us a couple of examples.

  • JOHN STANTON:

    Sure. The primary accomplishment of the governor has been a consensus process that led to a voluntary agreement to reduce air pollution in order to restore visibility to national parks on the Colorado Plateau. Now, the truth about that program is that it's entirely voluntary. Nothing mandatory has to be done until 2018. And it has yet to result in any improvement in visibility. So while it's all very nice to reach voluntary agreements that don't require anybody to do anything for two decades, that's not what we need right now insofar as federal leadership on the environment in Washington. And voluntary agreements don't get us where we need to go. Once again the Bush administration has the worst environmental record in the history of this country. There is a need for them to re-evaluate their approach, not further solidify it by moving Governor Leavitt into the position of EPA enforcement.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right. And, briefly, what would you say are the main issues he's going to face at EPA?

  • JOHN STANTON:

    The main issues– the very first issue will be global warming. The McCain-Lieberman bill, a bill by conservative Republican John McCain of Arizona, will be on the floor of the Senate. Governor– the governor is going to have to oppose that. And I think he's in agreement with the president on the fact that global warming is a myth. I think that he's also going to be having to explain why the federal government is abandoning the federal Superfund program to clean up toxic waste sites. I think that he will be a reliable partner with the president in setting aside wetlands protections in order to facilitate oil and gas exploration in the Rocky Mountains. And, overall the last final thing that he will have to deal with is the president's air pollution plan.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Your assessment, both of his consensus style, Scott Segal, and how it may be applied to some of the top issues he's going to face.

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    Sure. Well, the enlibra principles we've discussed are a collaborative approach. And in the past he's involved himself with Indian tribes, other states, public interest organizations, and the business community to formulate consensus solutions. This has been greatly effective. And I think what you're hearing here is a minority opinion within the environmentalist community. Fred Krupp, for example, the president and founder of Environmental Defense, said that Governor Leavitt has a very good record when it comes to some of these air quality issues, particularly the Grand Canyon reduction plan. I think that's important.

    I also disagree with John's parade of uglies about the issues that the governor will face. The first thing that will be on his desk when he gets there to EPA will be the new rule reforming a program called New Source Review. I know the NewsHour has covered this issue before. The bottom line is when the governor is able to sign that rule, it will bring rationality to that clean air program which will allow efficiency upgrades and will allow pollution reduction.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    You're talking about power plants and when they renovate then they have to put on the tougher environmental controls.

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    That's exactly correct. By defining what types of maintenance activities power plants can be involved in, we will facilitate a mechanism for improved efficiency and better workplace safety and a better approach to pollution prevention.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Chip Ward, do you want to weigh in on this about again once more about his record and where you think he may come down on some of these issues?

  • CHIP WARD:

    Well, I think it's clear where he comes down on wetlands. He took– one of his featured items in this last agenda, last four years, was that he wanted to build a large highway right down the middle of Utah's most important wetlands, pave them over with concrete and call it a parkway. He let contracts out that cost taxpayers millions of dollars on that highway knowing full well that there were people out there that were going to challenge it in court and the court was not ambiguous. They said that the environmental review on that project were totally inadequate and were not done well. As far as the other items, I really don't think we've gotten anywhere on wilderness in the last 12 years. Governor Leavitt has recently cut a backroom deal with Secretary Norton, which is going to drastically change the way that the Bureau of Land Management can define, identify and protect wilderness areas in Utah and all over the West. He's also just cut a backroom deal with her that will make it very easy for states and local governments to put roads through areas, habitat, fragment them and prevent more wilderness designations.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right. Let me let Dianne Nielson jump in and comment on that.

  • DIANNE NIELSON:

    We're not talking about backroom deals. We're talking about real results on the ground, and the Western Regional Air Partnership is the example. We have a program in regulation, not voluntary, it's a regulatory program. Come this December, five states will submit plans and immediately implement milestones for reducing regional haze. And if they exceed those milestones, there will be a voluntary market-based trading program that will go in place. This is exactly the type of trading program that will back up those standards and, in fact, make sense in terms of accomplishing the goal. While the rest of the country is talking about how we're going to reduce pollution, the Western Regional Air Partnership has developed the strategy and implemented it. That's real results in the air, over the Grand Canyon, in the national parks, in the West for the United States and its citizens.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    John Stanton, how do you think he will be different, if confirmed, than Christie Whitman was in that job?

  • JOHN STANTON:

    Ultimately I think that the governor and the president probably will see more eye to eye on various issues. I think that for lack of a better term, the president has a better partner in crime when it comes to dismantling the clean air and clean water protections that Americans look to the federal government to provide.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Do you think he and the president are closer? I assume you don't agree with the partner in crime characterization, but closer than at least Christie Todd-Whitman was believed to be with the president.

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    I suspect on a philosophical level that's probably correct, although I always thought the environmentalist critique of Christie Whitman was off the mark. I thought she was far closer to the president than was first described. Bottom line is you've got a western governor. Western governors have to have expertise on natural resource conservation as well as on pollution control. John is from the East. He's basically a pollution control guy. I think we'll have somebody that has a much broader swipe in terms of competence and expertise on environmental policy.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Would you also say that eastern Republicans from the moderate school just have a different philosophy in general from western Republicans on environmental issues?

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    I think that they're willing to give people a chance and to see how people will do if given the correct incentives. But remember even incentivized programs like the president's new air policy is not a voluntary program. When we say cap and trade, there's nothing voluntary about a cap.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    We have to leave it there. Thank you all four.

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