Environmentalists Protest Selection of Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt as EPA Head

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In Utah, Leavitt came under criticism for opening the state’s wildlands to polluting industries and opening millions of acres of wilderness to roadbuilding and development. He also backed a massive highway project that would have destroyed wetlands and fertile farmlands along the Great Salt Lake. [Includes transcript]

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President Bush yesterday nominated Utah governor Michael Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency replacing Christie Todd Whitman who resigned in May.

Philip E. Clapp, head of the National Environmental Trust, said, “I can’t think of too many governors more hostile to government regulations than Mike Leavitt.” We’ll have more on this later in the show.

Bush’s announcement came at the beginning of a three-week drive during which he hopes to bolster his environmental image.

A Wilderness Society official in Montana, predicted Bush would attempt to “to do more environmental stuff in the next three weeks than he has done in the last three years.”

The Sierra Club yesterday announced its opposition to the nomination of Leavitt.

The group said in a release: “Governor Mike Leavitt’s environmental track record, which includes working behind closed doors with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to open up Utah ’s wildlands to polluting industries, suggests that he will be a good fit for the Bush administration but a disappointing choice for Americans concerned with environmental protection.

“As Governor, Mike Leavitt secretly negotiated two controversial deals with the Department of Interior to open up millions of acres of Utah wilderness to roadbuilding and development. As EPA Administrator, Governor Leavitt would not alleviate concerns that the Bush Administration is prone to making shady deals at the expense of a safe and healthy environment.

“Governor Leavitt also championed the notorious Legacy Highway, which would have destroyed Utah ’s world renowned wetlands and fertile farmlands along the Great Salt Lake. His appointment does not inspire confidence in a Bush Administration that removed federal oversight for 20 percent of America ’s waterways.”

We talk to Lawson Legate, southwest regional director for the Sierra Club, to review Leavitt’s record in Utah.

  • Lawson Legate, southwest regional director for the Sierra Club. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah where he is speaking to us from.


AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now to a local issue and that issue is the issue as the environmental protection agency. Right now President Bush has put forward his nominee to be the new administrator of the E.P.A. In the days and weeks following the collapse of the World Trade Center, the White House pressured the Environmental Protection Agency not to warn New York residents about the potential health effects and not to issue guidelines for the public about cleaning apartments and offices. That’s the conclusion of a yet to be released investigation by the E.P.A.'s inspector general according to a report in the New York Times. The report goes on to say the White House's handling of the situation was influenced strongly by its desire to seek the stock market’s quickly reopening on Wall Street. Before we go to that E.P.A. report, we’re joined on the line by Lawson Legate, he is Southwest Regional Director for the Sierra Club, he lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he speaks to us from. Can you talk about the announcement yesterday of President Bush to nominate the governor of Utah, Leavitt, to be the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency?

LAWSON LEGATE: Yes. Governor Leavitt should be a pretty good fit for the Bush administration because Governor Leavitt is really a public figure as governor, dealing with environmental issues, somebody who is prone to cut deals at the expense of the environment. And as we know from the Bush administration their record on environmental issues is about as bad as presidential administrations could be.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk specifically about Governor Leavitt’s record?

LAWSON LEGATE: Yes. As you may know, one of the great unfinished agendas in the western United States is that of protecting our remaining wild lands under our Federal Wilderness Preservation System. And recently Governor Leavitt, who is a great proponent of collaboration and openness, concluded a secret deal with the Secretary of the Interior to bring to a screeching halt the studies of remaining wild lands out in Utah. And by extension the entire western United States to stop the wilderness studies that had been ongoing under the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. Another example, Governor Leavitt has very doggedly persisted in promoting a very damaging freeway, a freeway that would be destined to go through the great Salt Lake wetlands which is an internationally recognized shore bird reserve. This would be a freeway that really is not needed. The answer in these modern times is more mass transit. And in fact we have some beginnings of that here even in Utah that have proven to be very popular and a system that needs to be expanded. But the governor has been  we’ve challenged him in court successfully so far, we’ve had to go to court to prevent the construction of this freeway. We would be looking … we’re one of the actually surprisingly one of the most urban states in the nation because most of our population in Utah lives along a narrow corridor that we call the Wasach front. We’re sprawling. And we don’t have a lot of farm land. The freeway that the governor has been promoting would gobble up some of the best remaining farm land that we have in Utah. It’s a bad idea. But the governor has been very stubborn about proceeding and he continues to take another run at getting this very damaging freeway built.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawson Legate, Southwestern Regional Director for Sierra Club. When we come back we’re going to talk about what happened under the previous administrator of the E.P.A., Christine Todd Whitman, and the report that the White House pressured the E.P.A. not to warn the public after the collapse of the World Trade Center about the damaging health effects and what was in the environment after September 11th. Stay with us.

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