October 29, 2003
In the end, only eight Senate Democrats could bring themselves to say no to that earnest
face, that soft-spoken manner -- and that threat of a slam-dunk cloture vote posed by the
So, by a vote of 88-8, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt was confirmed Tuesday as the administrator
of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Even Hillary Clinton, holding a White
House promise to we-really-mean-it-this-time investigate the health threats faced by World
Trade Center downwinders, voted to confirm.
The lopsided vote, after weeks of Democratic delays, is a significant victory for the
White House and for Leavitt's reputation as a peacemaker. With characteristic humility,
Leavitt said that he had accepted the job because, "I continue to be very optimistic
that I can make a contribution."
Leavitt's optimism will be severely tested. He, and we here in Utah, will know relatively
quickly if he will be allowed to pursue his brief as a protector of the environment, or
whether he will, like predecessor Christine Todd Whitman, be cavalierly overruled whenever
he considers the planet's long-term health on at least a par with industry's short-term
Leavitt said Tuesday that he supports the Bush environmental policies because, in his
view, they protect the environment without putting the United States at a competitive
disadvantage in the world market.
Greater efficiency in energy production and manufacturing would, indeed, improve the
United State's competitiveness, and make a few honest millionaires along the way. But this
administration has shown no interest in anything other than last-century fossil-fuel
technologies, technologies as antiquated as the dinosaurs whose guts they run on.
Unless that attitude changes, the United States will very definitely lose its competitive
advantage to whatever nations are pressured by their governments and their consumers to
make the scientific breakthroughs that will power the 21st century cleanly and cheaply.
Leavitt, who will turn his keys over to Lt. Gov. Olene Walker on Nov. 5, also correctly
pinpointed the next constituency he must win over -- the EPA's 18,000 employees.
The professionals at that agency have been largely ignored by the Bush administration.
Their advice on global warming was censored and their concerns about everything from
dirtier power plants to arsenic in the water have been routinely dismissed by the White
Such heavy-handed management is supposedly not Leavitt's style. But, if
he wants to fulfill his dream of resolving the nation's environmental problems through
conciliation rather than litigation, Leavitt will have to have the EPA pros and the White
House pols on his side.
That's a task that will require all the optimism Mike Leavitt can