New EPA Chief Promises Regulatory Balance

Nov. 1, 2003
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 water industry who desire a reduction in regulation and environmental enforcement.

Some believe that Leavitt will have a preference for business interests over those of the environment. Leavitt was quoted as saying there is often "an economic imperative that we're dealing with in the global economy, and that's to do it less expensively."

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.

On a more positive note, 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. Whitman reportedly 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, 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.

As an editor for a magazine serving the water industry, I am torn by Leavitt's appointment. On one hand, I am pro-environment and would hate to think that his appointment would slow or reverse the environmental steps we have taken over the past 25 years, since the inception of the Clean Water Act.

On the other hand, I understand the challenges faced by the water industry –- the struggle to meet increasing federal regulation in tough economic times.

Only time will tell what impact, if any, Leavitt will have on world of water. A number of environmental regulations are already in the pipeline for promulgation. I suspect, however, that "delayed for further study" might become a familiar refrain when it comes to any new regulation. At least for the next year or more.

James Laughlin, Editor