Senator Lautenberg Takes a Stand Against Unqualified EPA Nominee

Senator takes stand while environment committee votes to move Leavitt's nomination to the Senate floor


Joan Mulhern, 202-667-4500 x 223
Cat Lazaroff, 202-667-4500 x 213

Saying that he is “appalled” that President Bush has nominated Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) today announced that he will put a hold on Governor Mike Leavitt’s Senate confirmation to the post. This brings the number of holds to six, although Senator Lautenberg’s is the first that is directly related to Governor Leavitt’s record of failing to enforce environmental laws in Utah.

“Senator Lautenberg is standing up for the American public, who deserve to be assured that the head of the U.S. EPA is someone who will uphold and enforce our nation’s most important environmental laws,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice. “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, Senator Lautenberg is putting a hold on this nomination.”

Senator Lautenberg said he will place a hold on Governor Leavitt’s nomination until he receives assurances from the Bush administration and Governor Leavitt that they will not further dismantle federal environmental protection laws.

“Documents have been brought to my attention that demonstrate a sustained pattern of failure by Governor Leavitt and his administration to protect the health of the citizens of Utah,” said Senator Lautenberg in a statement issued this morning. “Tens of thousands of Americans die each year because of polluted air, water and soil. We need as EPA administrator, one who takes seriously their responsibility to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare.”

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted this morning to send Governor Leavitt’s nomination to the full Senate. Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) voted against his confirmation, citing concerns about the Bush administration’s and Governor Leavitt’s failure to provide information about the administration’s actions to weaken environmental protections. Senator Barbara Boxer abstained from the vote, but placed a hold on the nomination, joining Senators Lautenberg, Lieberman, Clinton, John Kerry (D-MA), and John Edwards (D-NC).

“People who want clean air and water should thank the Senators who defended the environment and public health today by voting against confirming Governor Leavitt to head EPA, as well as those Senators who have additional holds on this confirmation,” said Mulhern.

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.

As Governor, Michael Leavitt struck a secret deal with the Bush administration to open six million acres of wild public lands in Utah to mining, oil and gas development, and bulldozing. Stunningly, his machinations — and those of the Bush administration — completely excluded the public from having any information or input on a decision that affects not only Utah, but also nearly 200 million acres of public land across the country.

“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.”

Earthjustice is the nation’s largest nonprofit law firm for the environment, working through the courts to safeguard public lands, national forests, parks, and wilderness areas; to reduce air and water pollution; to prevent toxic contamination; and to preserve endangered species and wildlife habitat.

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