Gov. Mike Leavitt, Utah Republican, is the White House’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, replacing Christine Todd Whitman, the first top administrator to separate from the Bush administration.
“Mike Leavitt will come to the EPA with a strong environmental record, a strong desire to improve what has taken place in the last three decades,” President Bush said yesterday while introducing Mr. Leavitt before a fund-raising dinner in Aurora, Colo.
As a three-term governor, Mr. Leavitt was instrumental in addressing the brown haze problem over the Grand Canyon and the administration considers him an environmental leader with a strong record on air, water and land conservation.
Mr. Bush, who had spent the early part of the day promoting his plan for thinning forests to prevent wildfires, said Mr. Leavitt “understands the importance of clear standards in every environmental policy.”
“He respects the ability of state and local government to meet those standards. He rejects the old ways of command and control from above,” the president said.
Mr. Leavitt said he would avoid igniting passions and shares Mr. Bush’s enthusiasm for using technology for improving the environment.
“There is no progress polarizing at the extremes but great progress when we collaborate in the middle,” he said yesterday. “I’ll leave it a better place than I found it. … I’ll give it my all.”
Mr. Leavitt was one of the first choices to head the agency but initially declined the offer earlier this summer, the Salt Lake Tribune reported June 19.
“At the time, he explained to them that it would be highly problematic and he’s still considering a fourth term as governor,” Natalie Gochnour, Mr. Leavitt’s spokeswoman, told the paper. “There’s been no contact since then.”
Environmentalists quickly denounced the nomination.
Larry Young, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said Mr. Leavitt as a governor was “anything but moderate.”
“That’s true on public lands, wetlands conservation, sprawl issues. 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.”
Mrs. Whitman informed the administration in May she would leave government service June 27 to rejoin her husband, John, in their home state of New Jersey, where she previously served two terms as governor.
Mrs. Whitman often clashed with the White House over environmental policy. While conservatives privately complained she sided too often with environmentalists, in turn environmentalists complained she was bent on destroying the environment. Mrs. Whitman denied her departure was over policy.
In a written statement earlier yesterday, Mr. Bush called Mrs. Whitman a trusted friend and adviser who helped his administration achieve environmental improvements.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, called the nomination an “excellent choice.”
“A hallmark of Mike Leavitt’s service as governor has been an emphasis on environmental stewardship and of seeking collaborative solutions to complex environmental problems,” Mr. Tauzin said.
However, the announcement was criticized by Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and presidential hopeful, who said Mr. 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. Protecting our environment is too important — and the damage done by the Bush administration too great — to confirm a nominee that does,” Mr. Lieberman said.