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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush chose Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt on Monday to head the Environmental Protection Agency, turning to another Republican governor to be his voice on an issue where his record with voters is weak.
Leavitt, a three-term governor who favors giving states a bigger role in environmental regulation, would succeed Christie Whitman, a former New Jersey governor who resigned in May.
"Mike Leavitt will come to the EPA with a strong environmental record, a strong desire to improve what has taken place in the last three decades," Bush said in Denver after spending a day promoting his plan for thinning forests to prevent wildfires.
The EPA post has been a lightning rod for critics of the administration's environmental policies. Whitman resigned after 2 1/2 years in which she sometimes butted heads with White House and other administration officials who saw energy development as a bigger priority.
Bush said Leavitt "understands the importance of clear standards in every environmental policy."
"He respects the ability of state and local government to meet those standards, he rejects the old ways of command and control from above," the president said.
Leavitt said he would seek consensus when tackling environmental issues that often ignite passions and strong disagreement in Washington.
"There is no progress polarizing at the extremes but great progress when we collaborate in the middle," he said, promising to improve the nation's air quality. "I'll leave it a better place than I found it. ... I'll give it my all."
Leavitt said he shares Bush's enthusiasm for technological approaches for improving the environment but also recognizes that there is often "an economic imperative" at issue with environmental matters.
If confirmed by the Senate, he will take office at a time when Democrats hold a 2-1 advantage over Bush when people are asked who they trust to do a better job on the environment, according to a recent poll.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)