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Epa nominee is approved { October 28 2003 }

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October 28, 2003
E.P.A. Nominee Is Approved

The Senate confirmed Gov. Michael O. Leavitt of Utah today as President Bush's choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, after Democrats withdrew opposition that had delayed a vote for almost two months.

The confirmation of Mr. Leavitt, who was approved by a vote of 88 to 8, had been used as a proxy fight by Democrats critical of Bush administration environmental policies, particularly in New York.

The vote went through today after Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and other Democrats withdrew their holds on Mr. Leavitt's nomination on Monday. Senator Clinton said the White House had agreed to re-examine the environmental aftereffects of the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and to have federal officials conduct additional testing of indoor air quality in Lower Manhattan.

"We clearly did not get everything I would have wanted," Mrs. Clinton said. "We got a lot more than anyone expected."

Mr. Leavitt, 52, has been governor of Utah for 11 years, and he said during a confirmation hearing in September that he viewed himself as a problem solver, preferring collaboration rather than force to bring about cleaner air.

"The solution to these problems are found in the productive middle," he said. "Rarely are they found at the extremes."

But Mr. Leavitt irked many Democratic senators by refusing to answer specific questions about how he would run the E.P.A., saying that his goal was to improve the environment. "My objective is to have their air cleaner when I finish than when I started," he said.

In spite of the protracted fight from Democrats, Mr. Leavitt won confirmation handily. One of the eight senators — all Democrats— who voted against him, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, complained that Congressional researchers had not provided enough information on Mr. Leavitt's environmental record in Utah, and whether he "shares the same disregard" for the environment as he said President Bush does.

"Do we really want to return to the days when rivers caught fire and people literally keeled over from air pollution?" Mr. Lautenberg said, according to The Associated Press.

But Senator James Inhofe, a Republican of Oklahoma, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said that opponents were "misrepresenting the Bush administration's progress" on the environment and distorting Mr. Leavitt's record.

"We desperately need to have this man in this office," Mr. Inhofe said of Mr. Leavitt, The A.P. reported.

Some conservationists, who have long criticized his ties with industry, particularly mining, timber, oil and gas interests, expressed displeasure with Mr. Leavitt's confirmation.

Larry Young, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a conservation group in Utah, said that "if you are not happy with Bush's environmental policies, then you won't be happy with Gov. Leavitt."

"He speaks with a voice of moderation, but his policies tend not to reflect his rhetoric," Mr. Young said from Utah. "He's much more pro-industry and much more antienvironment than he makes himself sound."

Mr. Young's group and other conservationists have cited his secret negotiations with the Interior Department to eliminate protections for millions of acres of wilderness and his insistence on building a major highway through wetlands and fragile shore areas around the Great Salt Lake, a project that was stopped by the courts.

Others, however, had praise for Governor Leavitt for keeping nuclear waste out of Utah and for working against urban sprawl.

In an interview with The New York Times in August, Mr. Leavitt defended his environmental record in Utah, saying the quality of air, water and public lands in Utah had improved under his stewardship through collaboration between public and private interests.

"Progress can only be made in the productive center," he said. "There will always be those who feel their voice has not been heard, so there is a sense of disappointment. I understand that."

Mr. Leavitt will succeed Christie Whitman, the former New Jersey governor, who resigned in May after often finding herself at odds with conservative members of the Bush administration.

An aide to Mr. Leavitt said the governor would resign on Nov. 5 and be sworn in as E.P.A. administrator on Nov. 6. He will be succeeded as governor by Utah's lieutenant governor, Olene Walker.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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