The Governor and the EPA

President Bush surely knew he would stir some controversy when he chose Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt (R) to head the Environmental Protection Agency this week. After all, the EPA has been a political hot spot for more than one administration.

The governor has a mixed environmental record. He successfully chaired a feisty partnership of governors, Indian tribes, environmentalists, and industry representatives that managed to work out a plan to clean the Grand Canyon's air. He also won a fight against building a nuclear-waste storage facility in Utah.

But Governor Leavitt has long argued for a highway through wetlands near the Great Salt Lake, a project the 10th Circuit US Court of Appeals recently blocked.

And critics are upset by his controversial agreement with Washington making it harder to permanently protect federal lands in Utah from drilling and mining.

Convincing the often uncompromising leaders of some major environmental groups that the president's choice was reasonable may prove difficult. Democrats - who desperately need a breakthrough issue for the upcoming presidential campaign and think Mr. Bush is vulnerable on the environment - may give the nominee a rough reception in the Senate.

Already, some environmental leaders have expressed opposition to Leavitt - a federalist who favors more state control over environmental issues. Others are skeptical at best.

Leavitt appears to have qualities sorely needed in a job in which every decision will probably displease someone. His track record of reasonable, consistent moderation among governors and his ability to reconcile disparate groups should serve him well. Environmentalists and the Senate should at least give Leavitt the opportunity to prove himself in the job.

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