Sierra Club opposes Bush pick
to head EPA
By Brian Vanneman
Two years ago, Vi and Bill Corkle officially adopted Nine Mile Canyon,
a Utah wilderness area known for its striking red walls and one of the
of Native American rock art in the country.
But on a trip to the canyon this spring, Vi saw something she had been
stake for a proposed gas drilling site was no further from our picnic table than
the length of my house," says the Ogden Group volunteer. "If they go
in there and use seismic vibrations to explore deep underground, it can’t
help but crack the rock."
In fact, five sites within Nine Mile Canyon have been approved for gas
and oil exploration by the administration of Utah Governor Mike Leavitt,
who in September
was nominated by President Bush to head the Environmental Protection
Due to his poor track record on wilderness preservation, clean air
and water protection, and other issues, and his dangerous stance on
the Sierra Club strongly opposes Leavitt’s appointment.
Senator Hillary Clinton has made the unusual move of placing a hold
nomination, which will prevent the Senate from voting, but not stop committee
hearings. Clinton cited the Bush EPA’s attempts to obscure the threat of
dangerous air contamination in post-9/11 Manhattan as the reason for the hold,
not Leavitt’s politics. Regardless of her intentions, the Club hopes that
the hold will allow the Senate more time to review Leavitt’s
poor environmental record.
Despite being called a moderate by some newspapers, Leavitt has been
a state-level champion for the Bush administration’s nationwide assault on environmental
regulations. Earlier this year, Leavitt abandoned negotiations with the Sierra
Club and other groups in favor of closed-door talks with Interior Secretary Gayle
Norton. The two settled on a plan to open up Utah wilderness areas like Nine
Mile Canyon to roadbuilding and development. If energy companies take advantage
of this handout, oil drills could be easily visible from Delicate Arch—one
of the most photographed national park icons—as well as from
many other protected Utah lands.
Leavitt has also been instrumental in advancing RS2477, which resuscitates
an archaic 1866 law allowing local governments to develop vast stretches
RS2477 would allow counties in Utah—and other states—to
identify old wagon roads and cattle trails on archival maps, then build
to be used by power companies, developers, or other industries.
Leavitt often publicizes his principle of "enlibra," which he defines
as "in balance," though our Latin scholars translate it as "in
scales." In any case, many Utah-based Club members question his
commitment to balancing the interests of business with the environment.
point of view, the scales have been tipped decidedly towards the former.
He believes in a collaborative process," says Nina Dougherty, the Club’s
Air Quality Chair. "But it’s not about taking a broader view—it’s
about seeing how far industry can be allowed to go."
Dougherty worked with the Leavitt administration on the Western Regional
Air Partnership and on keeping Salt Lake City’s air clean. But Leavitt opposed
national legislation to limit soot levels, calling for "sound science" and
further investigation, though soot has repeatedly been linked to chronic
respiratory problems, asthma, and lung cancer. And while soot is one
of the main pollutants
released by coal power plants, Leavitt advocates increased coal power
production, including two major plant expansions, and the construction
From her Salt Lake City home, Dougherty can watch the arms of the Wasatch
the haze created by industry and automobiles.
Perhaps even more threatening to citizens nationwide is Leavitt’s advocacy
for states’ rights on environmental issues. States’ rights have been
used as a tactic to avoid publicly-supported federal environmental legislation.
When states compete for industry and one of the bargaining chips is pollution
control, more lenient controls are a temptation. And while many environmental
problems, like global warming, air and water pollution, have no trouble crossing
state lines, state laws do. "The EPA has got to have a strong enforcement
role," says Dougherty.
Unfortunately, there are more dark spots on Leavitt’s environmental record.
One of his first acts as governor was to fire a Division of Wildlife Resources
enforcement official who had fined Leavitt’s family’s fish farm for
environmental violations. He later laid off fifty environmental scientists when
their protection of vulnerable plant and animal species conflicted with developers’ ambitions.
He has been a staunch advocate of building the Legacy Highway, which would threaten
the state’s world-renowned wetlands. Emerging from the Leavitt
era, Utah was ranked last in the nation in Clean Water Act enforcement.
Leavitt’s track record suggests that he will be a good fit for the Bush
administration," says Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, "but
a disappointing choice for Americans concerned with environmental protection."
For more, see: www.sierraclub.org/scoop/leavitt.
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