This morning, Mike Leavitt, President Bush’s nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is expected to receive his first hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. While many senators — particularly those with greater political ambitions — undoubtedly will take this opportunity to castigate the administration’s environmental policies, Mr. Leavitt deserves a fair hearing on his own record, one that marks him as a moderate and pragmatist.
Many on the right hoped that this position would be filled by a more focused advocate of free markets and private property rights. However, the narrow Republican majority in the Senate has restricted potential choices for both judges and potential cabinet members. Mr. Leavitt’s greatest environmental achievement as governor of Utah is inscribed on the clear blue skies over the Grand Canyon. To remove the brown haze that hung over that vista, Mr. Leavitt had to secure the cooperation of numerous environmental advocacy groups and business owners, not to mention 13 tribal nations, 13 states and three federal agencies. Utah meets all federal air quality standards, which was not the case when Mr. Leavitt was first elected governor in 1992, and Utah’s water quality has also improved — nearly three-quarters of the state’s streams meet federal water quality standards, compared to 60 percent of streams nationwide.
To reach those goals, Mr. Leavitt applied his political philosophy of “enlibra” — balance. He described the idea in a position paper for the Western Governors Association, writing, “At the heart of my environmental policy are two principles: Balance and stewardship … . When only the extremes are represented, the parties cling immovably to their positions, producing either gridlock or an extreme policy … . Neither one is a satisfactory outcome.”
Mr. Leavitt appears to represent the ideal of the Senate Democrats who repeatedly have opposed principled conservatives Mr. Bush has nominated. Many Democratic colleagues in the National Governors Association endorse Mr. Leavitt. Gov. Gary Locke of Washington, who is also chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, called him “a man of great intelligence, always a consensus builder.” Another Democrat, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, said, “Mike Leavitt is as reasonable and as intelligent of a person as you’ll ever meet. I can certainly work with him.”
Calling himself “an unabashed Leavitt fan” in a column published about a month ago, The Washington Post’s David Broder wrote: “If anyone can revive the badly eroded tradition of bipartisan support for protection of God’s natural gifts to this nation, Mike Leavitt has as good credentials as could be found.” Mr. Leavitt’s balanced record as a principled pragmatist makes him a wise choice for EPA administrator. The Senate should give him a fair hearing and a quick confirmation, but we suspect that Senate Democrats will thrash this moderate, just as they have thrashed conservatives. The president may learn that there is no pleasing them.