Leavitt Scrutinized as EPA Hearings Approach

Leavitt Scrutinized as EPA Hearings Approach

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John Daley ReportingConfirmation hearings, are just two days away and Governor Mike Leavitt's environmental record is already under intense scrutiny in the nation's capitol.

Despite strong poll numbers here in Utah, the Bush Administration's pick to head the EPA is expected to face a bruising confirmation process.

When it comes to environmental issues, just who is Mike Leavitt? He's positioned himself as a moderate, but conservationists say his record falls way short of his rhetoric. Critics will say that his record mirrors that of the Bush administration.

A new KSL TV/Deseret Morning News poll by Dan Jones and Associates finds most Utahns like Mike Leavitt's environmental legacy. Over half call it good or excellent. 22% says it's fair. 14% give him a poor rating.

Leavitt has cultivated his image as a moderate, saying under his watch Utah's air water and land are cleaner. He even invented the word "enlibra"--symbolizing balance between environment and development.

Gov. Mike Leavitt, July 1998: "Our purpose then in putting forward enlibra is to create a symbol for the middle."

Conservationists give Leavitt high marks in trying to stop high level-nuclear waste from being dumped on the Goshute Indian Reservation. Far more telling they say is Leavitt's Legacy Highway.

State road builders plowed ahead with a road through federally protected wetlands, against the warnings of environmental groups and the EPA's regional administrator, only to be stopped in federal appeals court costing the state millions because Leavitt had already ordered crews to start building.

Gov. Mike Leavitt, Nov. 2001: "To just have it going out the door in interest and penalties while we park equipment and wait for the federal court to come up with whatever decision they're going to after a 20 minute hearing just defies logic."

A coalition of 16 green groups is calling on the Senate to block Leavitt's confirmation. They say the governor has a history of ignoring science that doesn't support his political policy positions --lax enforcement, poor environmental performance. Utah has the number two ranking nationally for toxic releases, eliminating land protections and secrecy.

Chip Ward, Environmental Advocate: "It's just not a very attractive record for someone who is going to lead the whole nation."

Three Democratic Senators have already put "holds" on his confirmation.

Dan Jones, Pollster: "I really don't think they are against him. They're using him as a pawn to get other concessions from the Bush administration."

KSL’s government specialist Richard Piatt is back in Washington covering the Leavitt confirmation process. He'll have stories live from D.C. all week long, beginning tomorrow night.

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