White House urges Dems to allow vote on EPA nominee

The White House Tuesday urged Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to allow a vote on the nomination of Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt to be Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

"We are urging the Senate to move forward in a bipartisan way, to vote him out of committee this week, so that the full Senate can then vote on his nomination," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

The committee was expected to give its approval Wednesday to the nomination, but Leavitt's eventual confirmation remains blocked by a barrage of Democratic objections to administration environmental policies.

On Oct. 1, Democrats on the panel blocked a vote on President Bush's nominee by boycotting the committee meeting.

Environment and Public Works ranking member James Jeffords, I-Vt., who joined Democrats in the boycott, said the holdup of the approval had "nothing to do with Mr. Leavitt's qualifications," but rather was a protest against the Bush administration's environmental policies.

After the boycotted meeting, Jeffords asked Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., for a two-week delay in the nominating process, so the administration could answer the 400 questions Democrats had submitted.

Although Jeffords said he remained unsatisfied with the responses he received, he noted Tuesday he would be willing to move forward with Leavitt's nomination.

"Out of respect for Gov. Leavitt, we will move forward with [the nomination]," Jeffords said. "However, the Bush administration's continued stonewalling of our efforts to obtain legitimate information regarding the wholesale rollback of the Clean Air Act and the development and implementation of other pending legislation is unacceptable. I expect to see that information before the Senate votes on this nomination."

Leavitt's approval by the Environment and Public Works Committee will still leave him facing a tough fight on the Senate floor. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., reiterated her intention last week to place a hold on Leavitt until Congress investigates the EPA's reports of the air quality in lower Manhattan following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., questioned the EPA's commitment to clean air litigation in a letter sent Oct. 10 to the EPA's acting administrator. In particular, Lieberman questioned the status of one case in which the EPA had concluded the Tennessee Valley Authority violated the Clean Air Act when it undertook several site rehabilitation projects without first obtaining permits.

In his letter, Lieberman sought information from the agency on its efforts to ensure the polluted sites are being cleaned up.

In another letter, sent Tuesday to the agency, several House Democrats claim a new EPA advertising campaign on the administration's "Clear Skies" proposal could violate federal tax law.

The writers of that letter-House Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif.; Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell, D-Mich.; and Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis.-said a new campaign of Spanish-language radio ads might amount to propaganda, for which taxpayer funds cannot be used.

The ads encourage support for "President Bush's Clear Skies Initiative" and urge support of the proposed legislation. The House Democrats' letter also suggests the ads might violate a federal law that prohibits federal officials from engaging in campaigns about pending legislation.

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