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Governor Prepares for Senate Grillings

Governor Prepares for Senate Grillings

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gov. Mike Leavitt is using mock hearings to prepare for his upcoming confirmation process in his bid to become administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The fake hearings involving state employees and private-sector advisers "is just smart preparation and part of the obligation he has to be ready," Leavitt spokeswoman Natalie Gochnour said.

Leavitt's confirmation hearings are not yet scheduled. Both of his mock hearings were conducted in the state Capitol, one last Saturday and one on Tuesday.

"I can't say who was involved," said Gochnour, although she did name state Budget Director Lynne Ward as one of the group.

Gochnaur refused to say whether any of the non-governmental participants were environmentalists, saying "define environmentalists."

Asked specifically whether a representative from any established environmental advocacy group was invited, she said, "We don't want to disclose the types of people involved. It was a good mix of topics and perspectives."

Fred Nelson, an assistant attorney general who participated, declined comment on the mock hearings. "The best I can say is we've been providing information and helping try to bring the governor up to speed" on environmental issues, he said.

Attorney Jeff Hunt, an expert on media law, says it is unlikely the administration could be forced to disclose the list of participants.

The group probably does not constitute a public body subject to the state Open and Public Meetings Act, he said. Unless participants used some sort of printed agenda or took minutes, Utah's open-records law also would not provide leverage to obtain participants' names.

"It's just like Vice President Dick Cheney and the energy task force," said Sierra Club regional representative Lawson LeGate, referring to federal policy discussions, which also were conducted behind closed doors and whose participants were kept secret.

LeGate complained the suspected exclusion of environmentalists is nothing new for Leavitt.

"There have been many opportunities to involve the environmental community, and ÛLeavittÝ has let just about every one go by," he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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