Supporters predict quick confirmation for Leavitt at EPA

In hopes of quickly filling the political leadership void at EPA, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., likely will hold confirmation hearings during the first two weeks of September on the nomination of Republican Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to head EPA, sources said Tuesday.

GOP sources predicted President Bush's choice to replace former EPA Administrator Christie Whitman would be confirmed with little controversy. Although these sources said Democrats are expected to use Leavitt's nomination as a chance to attack the Bush administration's environmental policies, at this point there does not appear to be much in the way of substantive roadblocks to his confirmation.

One source noted that while environmentalists oppose Leavitt for his states' rights stance on environmental regulations, conservatives have also been critical of his opposition to a nuclear waste dump in the state and his efforts to set aside some lands for monuments and parks.

Although environmentalists quickly went on the offensive, charging Leavitt will gut federal environmental rules, Democrats stopped short of saying they will undertake a major effort to block his nomination. When asked whether Democrats would fight the nomination, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., demurred. "We don't weigh in this early," the spokeswoman said.

Likewise, in a prepared statement, Environment and Public Works ranking member James Jeffords, I-Vt., said: "I look forward to learning more about Gov. Leavitt and his environmental record during the upcoming confirmation hearing. One area I will explore is how we can work together to ease the backlog of information requests that my committee has had pending with the EPA for far too long."

Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., both contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, are among those who have charged Leavitt's choice highlights Bush's disregard for the environment.

Leavitt is most well known on environmental issues for his work with the Western Governors Association promoting his "Enlibra Principles," which aim to devolve regulatory and enforcement authority to the state, regional and local level as much as possible. Enlibra also has a heavy emphasis on the use of market forces and "flexible" enforcement and regulation, all of which have become centerpieces of the Bush administration's approach to environmental issues.