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29.10.03

Good Enough For Now

Leavitt Wins Approval as Head of EPA

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, ending an effort by six senators to block the vote in protest of Bush administration environmental policies.

... Leavitt, who has governed Utah for 11 years, has earned a reputation even among some environmentalists as someone who can gather people of divergent views to work toward common environmental goals. He shares President Bush's preference for coaxing businesses to become partners in achieving pollution reduction objectives, rather than forcing them to comply with strict regulations.

... Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey said Leavitt had allowed one of the country's biggest polluters, Magnesium Corp. of America, to release 170 times the allowable amount of dioxins, one of the most dangerous toxins, for years.


Leavitt seems like he's about as good an EPA head as we could expect to be appointed by President Bush. Any Republican who's substantially more environmentalist than Leavitt would have to come from a marginal part of the party, and would anger a sizeable portion of the party's base -- not to mention being on a collision course with the rest of the administration. I certainly wouldn't want to subject myself to the arm-twisting that the President gives to the EPA (or the CIA, for that matter). I wouldn't be surprised if Leavitt, like Christie Whitman before him, ultimately resigns because he can't take the White House agenda anymore. On the other hand, he may become a sort of Colin Powell figure, loyal while disagreeing and being forced to compromise his integrity to keep up the administration's stance. Indeed, that may be exactly what Bush is hoping for -- someone who can sell the administration's policies to skeptical members of the public, because they've built a reputation for being one of the good Republicans. I think Leavitt also represents the best side of Bush's environmental philosophy, and does it better than Bush because he's not as compromised by his ideology on other, more important to him, topics.

I think my assessment is corroborated by the tone of the debate over Leavitt's nomination. We've seen plenty of heated nomination fights in which Democrats scrutinized the record of the nominee -- John Ashcroft, Miguel Estrada, etc. That didn't happen with Leavitt. The focus of the debate was always on what Bush had done to the environment. The nomination became a forum to criticize the federal government, not the Utah government. Leavitt was sort of a hostage, his approval held up as a desperate attempt by an out-of-power party to force the administration to cooperate more.

I'm disappointed that John Kerry -- whose stance on the environment I've praised -- and Joe Lieberman -- who seems to be pushing his environmental credentials as an antidote to the "too far right" charge -- missed the vote.

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