Senate Approves Leavitt As EPA Head
Former Republican Jim Jeffords from Vermont, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led a boycott of the confirmation vote that left Republicans without a quorum and forced a two-week delay.
When the Democrats finally returned to business, Leavitt was approved, 16-2. Frank Lautenberg, (D-NJ), expressed his concern that Governor Leavitt's environmental credentials left much to be desired. Incredibly, he asked, "do we really want to return to the days when rivers caught fire and people literally keeled over from air pollution?"
Sen. Clinton (D-NY) dropped her opposition after receiving assurances from the White House Council on Environmental Quality that the administration would further investigate her concerns about EPA's role in the World Trade Center cleanup.
Democrats saw the writing on the wall and realized they didn't have the votes to stop the nomination and Leavitt sailed to an easy victory. Leavitt will be sworn in November 6, a day after resigning as Utah governor.
Leavitt confirmed as EPA head after Senate Dems back down
WASHINGTON (AP) — Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt won Senate confirmation Tuesday to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency after Senate Democrats sharply critical of the Bush administration backed down in the face of an overwhelming Republican show of force.
The lopsided 88-8 vote did not reflect the intense efforts by some Democrats to hold up the nomination as they attacked the Bush administration's environmental decisions.
President Bush's nomination of Leavitt to head the 18,000-employee agency was helped by the Utah Republican's three terms as governor, during which he forged personal relationships with many Senate Democrats, some of them former governors.
"He's very good at bringing people together," Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said moments before the vote in explaining why he was supporting Leavitt.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, "The record is clear that Michael Leavitt is a champion of the environment."
Leavitt said Tuesday he will be sworn in as EPA administrator on Nov. 6, a day after resigning as governor. "I continue to be very optimistic that I can make a contribution," he said. "I accepted this responsibility because I believe the president is committed to substantially more progress on the environment, and doing it in such a way that does not compromise our place in the world competitively."
After weeks of efforts by some Senate Democrats to block or delay the confirmation, only eight Democrats voted against Leavitt.
One of them, Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, said he wanted more time to hear from congressional researchers about Leavitt's record in Utah and whether he "shares the same disregard for" the environment he said was shown by President Bush.
"Do we really want to return to the days when rivers caught fire and people literally keeled over from air pollution?" Lautenberg asked.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said, however, that opponents were "misrepresenting the Bush administration's progress" on the environment and distorting Leavitt's record.
"We desperately need to have this man in this office," Inhofe said of Leavitt, who was nominated in August to fill the vacancy resulting from Christie Whitman's departure in late June.
Leavitt has promised to promote "a higher and more meaningful level of cooperation and the application of new technologies" to protect the nation's environment.
"We need a leader at the agency," echoed Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., who preceded Inhofe as environment committee chairman. A spokesman for Jeffords, who urged holding up the nomination to get more information about EPA's recent changes to air pollution rules, said the agency had promised to provide the senator with estimated benefits, not just costs, of Jefford's proposed plan to reduce power plant pollution, which is competing with a plan proposed by the president.
It had become apparent Monday that Senate Republicans could easily muster the 60 votes needed to end the Democrats' delaying tactics, meant to protest Bush administration environmental policies.
Minutes before the Senate was to have taken a procedural vote to clear the way for a final vote on Leavitt's confirmation, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., dropped her opposition to the nomination.
She explained that the White House had told her in a letter that it would take additional steps over two years to protect New York City residents who potentially had been exposed to harmful substances from the World Trade Center rubble.
"I'm pleased we've made this progress with the White House ... and I hope their cooperation is an indication of a new attitude," she said.
Clinton and three Democratic presidential contenders in the Senate — Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina — led an effort for weeks to block a vote on Leavitt, to make an issue of Bush administration environmental policies.
Along with Lautenberg, Democrats who voted against Leavitt's confirmation were Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Charles Schumer of New York.
Four other Democratic senators didn't vote: Jeff Bingaman of New
Mexico, John Edwards of North Carolina, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut
and John Kerry of Massachusetts.
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