Environmentalists Unhappy to See Leavitt Head EPA

Environmentalists Unhappy to See Leavitt Head EPA

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Environmentalists in Utah, who have tangled with Gov. Mike Leavitt on countless issues during his past 12 years in office, say they're not encouraged to hear about Leavitt's potential new job -- administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Leavitt, who faces a confirmation process before he can begin work, has said that as governor of Utah he has worked to preserve wilderness and to reconcile sharply divided opponents on environmental issues.

Leavitt, a three-term Republican governor, would succeed Christie Whitman, a former New Jersey governor who resigned the EPA post in May. Bush's choice was confirmed Monday by a senior administration official.

Denise Boggs, director and founder of the Utah Environmental Congress, hasn't been won over by Leavitt's efforts. She says Leavitt talks a good game but doesn't deliver on environmental issues.

Boggs said she wasn't expecting anything good to come of President Bush's choice to head the EPA. She thinks the goal of whoever fills the job will be to gut federal programs that protect federal land.

"I think that anyone who gets appointed to this position is going to be terrible," she said.

Boggs cites the land-swap deal Gov. Leavitt cut with Interior Secretary Gail Norton as an example. It lifted wilderness protection from about 6 million acres of federal land in Utah.

Lawson LeGate, Southwest senior representative for the Si erra Club, called it the "no more wilderness deal" and said he thinks more of the same is in store if federal lawmakers confirm Leavitt as EPA administrator.

LeGate says Leavitt is a perfect fit for the important post in the Bush administration -- and he doesn't consider that to be a compliment. The EPA administrator ought to be a staunch advocate for wilderness protection, LeGate says, but he sees in Leavitt someone who's too willing to cut deals on issues like road building and oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

"He patterns himself as a guy in the middle, when in fact he has an agenda that is all too often against protecting the environment," he said.

Larry Young of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance echoed that thought.

"It raises real red flags," he said of the appointment. "I'd admonish the public to look at his record. Pay a lot more attention to his actions than the words."

One longtime Utah lawmaker had a different take on Leavitt's environmental record and what it means if he's confirmed.

"Governor Leavitt is going to bring a Western flavor to the Environmental Protection Agency," said state Sen. John Valentine, a Republican from Orem. He said a Western perspective is necessary to gain balance on important land-management issues.

"Ranchers, farmers, people who live on the land, mining, oil and gas -- there is a place for those in the West," he said. "We all live on the same planet."

Valentine credits Leavitt with "a desire to bring warring parties together."

A Democratic candidate seeking to replace Leavitt as Utah governor said the EPA appointment is good news.

"I think that having a governor from a Western state serving in that position is in the best interests of the state of Utah," said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Matheson Jr.

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

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