Leavitt Eyes Governors to Support EPA Nomination

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Despite criticism by environmentalists, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt enjoys bipartisan support from his fellow governors and can expect their help to win confirmation as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (search).

Democrats and Republicans gathered at the governors' summer meeting said Leavitt is widely respected and they expect he would be an advocate for state interests as the nation's top environmental officer.

"He's a man of great intelligence, always a consensus builder," said Washington Gov. Gary Locke, chairman of the Democratic Governor's Association (search). "I have the highest regard for Mike."

Leavitt was nominated by President Bush last week and will face confirmation after the Senate returns from its summer break next month. Republican governors said they would lobby senators to approve him.

"We would do whatever we can get him confirmed," said the Republican governor of Nebraska, Mike Johanns.

"Not only will I talk to our delegation but I would be happy to talk to others if he asks me to," said Republican North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven.

Environmentalists in Utah have said Leavitt's affability and his reputation as a consensus-builder contrast with their dealings with him. They have criticized his record on public lands, wetlands conservation and urban sprawl.

Democratic governors said they may not agree with all of Leavitt's positions and they expect President Bush will instruct him to implement policies they don't agree with. But they expect Leavitt will at least listen to their concerns.

"Mike Leavitt is as reasonable and as intelligent of a person as you'll ever meet," said Democratic Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry (search). "I can certainly work with him."

Leavitt has had ample opportunity to make friends among the governors. He has served since 1993, longer than any other sitting governor, and served as leader of the National Governor's Association in 1999-2000.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (search), a Republican elected last year, said Leavitt doesn't speak often in the governor's meetings, but he immediately commands attention when he does because his opinion is so well respected. "I decided early on to adopt him as my mentor," Perdue said.

Leavitt would not comment on his vision for the EPA, citing the pending confirmation. But he said he would welcome any help that his colleagues could provide in making his case to the senators.

"It's always gratifying to have your peers find what you've done to have value," he said.