Bush names Utah governor to head EPA

President Bush announced Monday that he would nominate Republican Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Leavitt would replace Christine Todd Whitman, who left the agency in May. Marianne L. Horinko is currently serving as acting administrator of the agency.

At an appearance in Aurora, Colo., President Bush said, "I selected Mike Leavitt because he is a trusted friend, a capable executive and a man who understands the obligations of environmental stewardship. With the Senate's approval, Mike Leavitt will lead an agency with 18,000 dedicated employees in offices all across our country."

Leavitt has pushed efforts to increase cooperation among federal, state and local officials in managing the vast areas of public land in Utah.

According to a report in The Salt Lake Tribune, Leavitt told attendees at the Rural Utah Business Conference last week that people with "extreme views" on issues such as control of roads on federal lands and the proposed designation of lands as wilderness areas should move toward the center and seek to cooperate with their opponents to solve disputes.

Last month, the House gave limited approval to a deal Leavitt negotiated with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to allow Utah counties to win control of pieces of public land in the state to maintain as roadways. Senate Democrats have questioned the deal, calling for an investigation by the Interior Department's inspector general.

Leavitt, a three-term governor of Utah, had been weighing whether to seek another term. He said in late July that he would make a decision by Labor Day about whether to run again.

After Whitman announced her resignation, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne emerged as a leading candidate to head EPA. But environmentalists lodged objections to his potential nomination. And in June, conservative activists also began raising questions about Kempthorne, charging that he too often abandoned conservative, free-market principles in support of large business interests.

Leavitt, like Kempthorne, has at times had a contentious relationship with environmentalists. But he was seen as a more moderate choice than Kempthorne.

Whitman engendered severe criticism from environmental groups and alienated some of her own employees at EPA.

Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington based nonprofit organization, said in May that Whitman had "presided over the greatest rollback in environmental enforcement in history, has pushed pollution control policies that put corporations rather than public health considerations in the driver's seat. [She] allowed the White House to make decision after decision that trumped her own judgment as well as that of the experts within the EPA."

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