Bush White House Stages Showdown Over Leavitt Nomination

Senator Lautenberg Asks Tough Questions About Leavitt's Record; Six Senators With Holds Take Strong Stand in Face of Republican Hardball Tactics


Joan Mulhern, 202-667-4500 x 223


Cat Lazaroff, 202-667-4500 x 213

To avoid answering questions posed by six U.S. Senators concerned with the records of President Bush and EPA nominee Michael Leavitt on environmental issues that affect the lives of millions of Americans, Senate Republicans Bill Frist (R-TN) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last night filed a cloture petition to override “holds” placed on Leavitt’s nomination and to cut off any floor debate — before any debate has even begun.

“The Senators with holds on Mike Leavitt’s confirmation vote have asked legitimate questions about this nomination. The Senators have questions that have yet to be answered about whether Governor Leavitt and President Bush will continue to weaken our nation’s environmental safeguards. They are refusing to release information about their anti-environmental policies,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice.

“This disrespectful disregard of traditional Senate processes is an effort to force a vote on the EPA nomination before many important questions can even be asked,” said Mulhern. “The Bush administration and Senate Republican leadership apparently don’t believe they have to answer to anyone about their policies to destroy federal environmental safeguards. These are life and death issues for many Americans – will our drinking water be clean? Is the air safe for our kids to breathe? The Bush White House and Governor Leavitt do not want to answer these questions.”

Six U.S. Senators have holds on the Leavitt nomination for a number of reasons, many dealing with Leavitt’s record on environmental issues as Governor of Utah and with the anti-environmental policies of the Bush administration. Yet the Senate Republican leadership is ignoring these holds.

Senator Frank Lautenberg has said that he is “appalled” that President Bush has nominated Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to head the EPA, given Leavitt’s record in Utah. Senator Lautenberg is seeking answers from Leavitt about his record as Utah Governor on environmental issues.

Senator Hillary Clinton is asking for answers about the Bush administration’s effort to mislead New York City residents about air pollution health hazards after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center; evidence released to date shows that EPA was told by the White House not to release information about air pollution risks following the attacks and to misleadingly reassure the public that the air quality was safe.

Other Senators, including Joseph Lieberman and John Kerry, have also raised concerns about the Bush administration’s refusal to answer questions about the World Trade Center health risks. Kerry and Lieberman want the Bush White House to explain its refusal to provide information about other attempts to weaken environmental laws. Senators John Edwards and Barbara Boxer also have holds on the Leavitt confirmation.

“These six Senators are standing up for the American public, who deserve to be assured that the next head of the EPA is someone who will uphold and enforce our nation’s most important environmental laws,” said Mulhern. “Governor Leavitt’s record indicates that he would not be an EPA administrator that would vigorously protect our environment. Fortunately for those of us who drink the water and breathe the air in this country, there are some Senators who are taking a stand against Leavitt’s confirmation.”

A look at Governor Leavitt’s record on environmental issues in Utah for the last eleven years reveals that he is a bad choice to head the federal EPA. Governor Leavitt and his administration in Utah repeatedly failed to enforce the laws that protect public health and natural resources; brokered backroom deals that have undermined decades of federal environmental law; and ignored science when it conflicted with his policy positions.

For example:

  • Governor Leavitt has failed to enforce the nation’s most important environmental laws in his home state, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, hazardous waste laws, and other federal laws that have been the bedrock of our country’s environmental protections for decades. According to a February 2003 EPA report, Utah placed dead last in enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

  • As Governor, Leavitt reassigned or demoted state employees who tried to enforce environmental laws in Utah.

  • His environmental agency repeatedly looked the other way as major facilities emitted, leaked, or spilled tons of hazardous substances into the environment in violation of state and federal law.

  • Leavitt’s Department of Environmental Quality opposed efforts to lower the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water to 10 parts per billion.

  • Governor Leavitt even proposed to the Bush administration that it transfer fundamental EPA authorities to the states – a troubling position for a nominee to head the federal government’s most important environmental agency.

“While Governor Leavitt speaks about his use of ‘balanced, open, and inclusive approaches’ to environmental protection, his record, unfortunately, tells a different story,” said Mulhern.

“Governor Leavitt would not only continue but accelerate and expand the Bush administration’s efforts to weaken the laws that protect our water, air, and the public’s health,” Mulhern added. “Putting someone with Governor Leavitt’s record in charge of the EPA — under a President with the worst environmental record we have seen in more than 30 years — would be like throwing gasoline on a fire.”


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