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Cabinet Welcome



As usual, Washington’s Democrats have capitulated. As usual, Washington’s Republican’s are ecstatic. And, for the first time in ages, Utahns will have a native presidential Cabinet member.

After contending with former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman who, according to The Washington Post, warned Vice President Dick Cheney that the actions of his energy task force would undermine enforcement of the Clean Air Act, President George W. Bush has his man in Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. Now that Leavitt’s nomination to succeed Whitman has passed the Senate vote, Bush will get all the nods he wants, and more, from our three-term governor. We should have expected that the governor’s unique brand of “middle-of-the-road” environmental compromise would one day reach the capital.

That brand of compromise is famous—largely because it isn’t compromise at all. How many times has Leavitt talked of “bringing all parties to the table,” then forgot to send invitations? Witness two agreements this spring, conveniently struck just as our armed forces were advancing into Baghdad. On April 9, Leavitt and Interior Secretary Gale Norton signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” clearing the way for ATVs and the extraction industry to run roughshod over any area with an antiquated road claim. Then, April 11, the two came to a settlement rolling back temporary protection of 5.9 million acres of wilderness study areas. Leavitt chided anyone who dared call these arrangements closed-door in nature, promising full participation by all parties at a later date. But once an agreement is struck, it sure is hard to change the rules. Bush clearly understands the value of such a technique even if, like Leavitt, he also prefers branding it as something different from what it really is.

“[Leavitt] has gained widespread respect for handling environmental issues in a spirit of openness and bipartisanship,” Bush gushed.

Right. The opposing side had fun while it lasted. No sight was more delicious than that of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) taking Leavitt’s environmental record to task. Boxer scolded Leavitt for something those in Utah’s environmental community already knows: The man’s in love with nebulous terms and responses. Boxer found Leavitt’s confirmation hearing answers too vague to warrant a “yes” vote from her U.S. Senate seat once Leavitt made it out of hearings. Only seven other U.S. Senators apparently agreed.

Here in Utah, the Leavitt name will be remembered for whirling disease at the Fremont River drainage, the consequent clearing of the Division of Wildlife Resources, lots of yelling about the Goshute’s high-level nuclear waste facility (but very little when it came to long-time polluters Kennecott Utah Copper and the old Magnesium Corp. plant), and a funky little word called “Enlibra.”

As the rest of the nation gets accustomed to an EPA head so smooth they won’t even notice changes in policy, at least we in Utah can help point toward Leavitt’s real game plan.

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