EPA Choice Released for a Floor Vote; Leavitt Was Stalled by Democrats

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Byline: James G. Lakely, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Democrats ended their boycott against President Bush's choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, voting overwhelmingly yesterday to send the nomination of Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt to the Senate floor.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 16-2 with one abstention to allow a floor vote on the popular three-term Republican governor, who was nominated by Mr. Bush in August to replace former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

Mr. Leavitt's nomination has been held up for weeks by Democrats, who on Oct. 1 took the unusual step of boycotting a committee hearing to prevent a quorum and a legal vote from taking place.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and the committee's chairman, called the previous delay a "proxy fight over the Bush administration's environmental record."

"As I've said numerous times, not one member of this committee has disputed Mike Leavitt's qualifications for this job," Mr. Inhofe said. "We've heard from Democrats, senators and governors alike that he's someone you can work with. It's very hard not to like Mike Leavitt."

Six Democratic senators, however, have pledged to do all they can to block a vote on Mr. Leavitt's nomination on the Senate floor.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, said she will continue to put a "hold" on Mr. Leavitt, accusing the nominee of offering incomplete answers to her questions. She also cited a report that the "White House modified several EPA press releases about air quality in lower Manhattan in a way that made them more reassuring than was warranted by the data available" at the World Trade Center site after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"These findings are of great concern to many New Yorkers, and I feel it is my duty to use any means at my disposal to see that they get the answers and actions they deserve," Mrs. …