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Senate Confirms Leavitt As EPA Chief

The Senate on Oct. 28 voted to approve Gov. Mike Leavitt, R-Utah, as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, with a lopsided 88 to 8 vote that demonstrated widespread support for the nominee, but that did not reflect the efforts by some Democrats to stop the process because of profound differences over Bush's environmental record.

Six Democratic senators put holds on the nomination, delaying it for 56 days, in order to extract concessions from the Bush administration, but an attempted filibuster collapsed after the administration agreed to several deals with Democratic opponents.

Leavitt is expected to start work as early as the end of the week, according to Acting EPA Administrator Marianne Horinko.

Three of the six senators who sought to block a final vote are presidential candidates. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, charged the nomination had been held up by "partisanship and presidential politics."

Sen. Orin Hatch defended Leavitt from some environmentalist critics, pointing out that Utah is one of the few states in complete compliance with EPA air quality standards, and this was not the case before Leavitt took office.

The major issues that rose to the surface during the confirmation process point to the early challenges confronting Leavitt as he seeks to balance the interests of industry groups who have powerful allies in the White House and environmental advocates:

  • Lawsuits by states that challenge the Bush administration decision not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions;
  • Controversies and legal challenges over easing Clean Air Act rules for coal-burning power plants and how to deal with these plants mercury emissions;
  • Release of information concerning White House involvement in EPA's response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), two of the senators holding up the nomination, won a concession for their efforts. James Connaughton, the White House environmental adviser, sent an Oct. 27 letter to Clinton and Lieberman in which he promised to beef up and extend health monitoring and cleanup activities for residents in Lower Manhattan, to ensure they are not still suffering from the dust and debris caused by the collapse of the World Trade Center.

"We clearly did not get everything I would have wanted," commented Clinton, who ended up voting to confirm Leavitt. "We got a lot more than anyone expected."

During the process Democrats bitterly attacked Bush policies, but few criticized Leavitt's environmental record, and most eventually decided the nation's environment would be better protected with a confirmed administrator attending cabinet meetings. Thirty-six Democrats and one independent joined all 51 Republicans to confirm Leavitt's nomination.

"This vote should not be seen as an endorsement of the Bush administration's environmental policies but a vote in support of a fine and honorable man who has an extremely difficult job ahead," said Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt.

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