Quiz Leavitt Closely

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), August 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

Quiz Leavitt Closely


Byline: The Register-Guard

President Bush's environmental record ensures that anyone he appoints to head the Environmental Protection Agency will be suspected of lacking a commitment to clean air and water. Sure enough, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt was immediately assailed for paving the way for industry in his state at the expense of the environment when Bush announced his nomination as EPA administrator. The U.S. Senate should be prepared to quiz Leavitt closely about his views - but Americans may find that Leavitt stands for more than smokestacks.

The possibility that Leavitt is something other than a roll-back-the-regulations nominee stems from his unlikely alliance with former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, as green a governor as ever there was. As members of the Western Governors' Association, in 1997 the two promoted a concept they called "enlibra." Leavitt and Kitzhaber believed their states and others needed to find new ways to resolve environmental conflicts, and enlibra - a word they coined as "a symbol of balance and stewardship" - was it.

Enlibra is a woozy brew of market-based economics, local empowerment, cost-benefit analyses, collaborative decision-making and incentive-driven processes. Kitzhaber's Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watershed Restoration is cited was an example of enlibra in action. So is Leavitt's Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission, created to clear the haze over the Utah-Arizona border. In both cases, the governors sought to resolve difficult environmental problems through partnerships and local action rather than top-down mandates.

Mandates, of course, are the hammer in the EPA's toolkit. The agency sets limits for various pollutants and penalizes those who violate the standards. Controversies at the EPA revolve around the question of whether standards should be tightened or relaxed. Such conflicts characterized Christie Todd Whitman's unhappy tenure at the EPA, during which she often found herself at odds with others in the administration who sought to loosen environmental rules.

The question the Senate must pose to Leavitt is whether his preference for local solutions implies support for an unravelling of national environmental standards. …

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