Senate panel approves EPA nominee

Despite strong protests by some Democrats, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Wednesday approved the nomination of Utah Republican Gov. Michael Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency by a bipartisan 16-2 vote.

Democrats insisted that their objections, which included a committee boycott on Oct. 1, are not aimed at Leavitt, but at the Bush administration. The administration has refused to provide Democrats with information about its clean air initiatives or how the EPA evaluated environmental risks in the wake of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"This administration has a pattern of not providing information to Congress," said Environment and Public Works ranking member James Jeffords, I-Vt., "It is this administration's responsibility to present this committee and Congress with accurate and sound information, especially when there are independent analyses that suggest these are serious matters of life and death."

Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., said there have been "relentless attacks" on the administration's environmental record, and he argued that many of the attacks on the president's policies are "baseless."

Inhofe addressed the delay of Leavitt's nomination, saying, "It's wrong that the presidential ambitions of a few senators could sacrifice a nominee with a proven record of environmental accomplishments."

Republicans continued to insist that Democrats are politicizing the nomination to make it an election issue.

"I think any fair reading of this administration's environmental policy demonstrates that at the very least they are controversial," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who voted against Leavitt, along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.

Clinton added that while she has a "very high personal regard" for Leavitt, the overarching concern is that "environmental policy in this administration is set at the White House and not at the Environmental Protection Agency."

Currently at least five senators have placed holds on the Leavitt nomination, including Democratic presidential candidates Lieberman and Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., as well as Clinton, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.