Dems vow to delay EPA nominee's confirmation

Republican Gov. Michael Leavitt of Utah, President Bush's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, appears to be on a fast track to political limbo after Democrats vowed to block a floor vote on his nomination because of ongoing conflicts with the Bush administration.

Although Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., did raise concerns with Leavitt's environmental record as governor at today's Senate Environment and Public Works hearing-including accusations that he retaliated against state employees who brought enforcement actions against a Leavitt family business-it appears he will easily make it out of the committee on a vote planned for next Wednesday.

But Senate Minority Whip Reid and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., warned Leavitt that outstanding disputes with the administration would mean his nomination would remain blocked for the foreseeable future. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who did not attend the hearing, also today vowed to maintain a hold on Leavitt's nomination.

Clinton and Lieberman, a contender for the party's 2004 presidential nomination, have blasted the administration's handling of the World Trade Center site cleanup in the wake of an EPA inspector general's report that found EPA made false claims about the safety of the area in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Clinton has demanded a full accounting of EPA's claims and release of data on the environmental risks of the site, which EPA has yet to do to the lawmaker's satisfaction.

Meanwhile, Reid is locked in a fight with the White House over his efforts to have one of his aides, Gregory Jaczko, appointed to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The White House has rejected Jaczko, and Reid indicated today he would block Leavitt's nomination in response unless the administration agreed to his selection or provided a convincing argument for not accepting him.

Along with virtually all of the panel members, Reid expressed sympathy for Leavitt, warning the governor that he would likely find the job very difficult and thankless.

"You're starting off in a big hole already," Reid warned, but added, "Your decision to accept this job in no way impugns your intelligence."