New EPA Chief Promises Regulatory Balance

The new head of the environmental Protection Agency – former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt — promises to bring "balance" to environmental regulation.

By James Laughlin

The new head of the environmental Protection Agency – former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt — promises to bring "balance" to environmental regulation. Given his conservative record on the environment, his appointment may be good news for those in the municipal water industry who desire a reduction in regulation and environmental enforcement.

In making the appointment, President Bush said Leavitt "understands the importance of clear standards in every environmental policy. He respects the ability of state and local governments to meet those standards, and rejects the old ways of command and control from above."

Environmental groups are not pleased with Leavitt's environmental record, which includes advocating a major highway extension through wetlands and wildlife habitat near the Great Salt Lake. The project was eventually halted by the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

His environmental record includes co-chairing the Western Regional Air Partnership, which worked to reduce brown haze over the Grand Canyon, and fighting plans to build a temporary storage facility for high-level nuclear waste on an Indian reservation in western Utah.

Leavitt succeeds Christine Todd Whitman, a former New Jersey governor who held the post of EPA administrator for 2 1/2 years before resigning in May.

Some believe that Leavitt will be more in-line with the Bush Administration's views on environmental regulation. During her tenure, Whitman's somewhat moderate environmental stance at times came into conflict with White House policy, perhaps contributing to her departure. According to reports, Whitman has begun writing a book calling for Democrats and Republicans to work together.

Environmental groups and Senate Democrats were opposed to, or at least skeptical of, the president's choice of Leavitt. Democrats in the Senate actually mounted a half-hearted fight against his appointment, but Leavitt's nomination was eventually approved by a vote of 88-8.

Leavitt has said the he recognizes that with environmental matters there is often "an economic imperative that we're dealing with in the global economy, and that's to do it less expensively."

Leavitt, 52, has championed the idea of increasing environmental cooperation among federal, state, and local officials. He has 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," according to a quote he gave the Associated Press.

The American Water Works Association has called on Leavitt to support EPA's work to minimize health concerns associated with water and encouraged him to support well-reasoned regulatory measures based on the best science available.

Editor's note:
I made a silly mistake in my November Viewpoint column. When discussing the concept of a tax on water, I meant to say that the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies had suggested that some sort of tax on water might be a suitable answer to the industry's current funding problems. Unfortunately, my brain was thinking "Sewerage" but my hands typed "Water." The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies is adamantly opposed to any tax on water.

James Laughlin, Editor

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