STATEMENT BY SEN. JAMES M. INHOFE

CHAIRMAN

COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS

NOMINATION HEARING OF GOV. MICHAEL LEAVITT

SEPTEMBER 23, 2003

 

Good morning.  The Committee on Environment and Public Works convenes this morning to consider the nomination of Gov. Michael Leavitt to be the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.   It is my honor to welcome Gov. Leavitt to the committee and I look forward to his testimony.  Governor, I apologize to you and your wife for the last-minute cancellation.  I hope you weren’t too inconvenienced.  It’s good to have you here.

 

I also want to thank you for your commitment to addressing the Tar Creek Superfund site in Oklahoma.  As you know, this is a top priority for me and I appreciate discussions we have already had on this subject.  I look forward to working with you and to our upcoming tour of the area after you are confirmed.

 

Let me be very clear from the outset: this may be news to some, but this hearing is about Gov. Mike Leavitt, about his qualifications to serve as the nation’s top environmental official.  Some environmental groups view this hearing as a proxy fight over President Bush’s environmental record.  These attacks cannot go unanswered, but for now I want to talk about a nominee with an impeccable record of service to our country.

 

Where to begin?  There is a lot to talk about.  Gov. Leavitt’s resume is marked by extensive experience in government and the private sector, and a long list of stellar accomplishments.

 

I don’t think anyone has any doubt—on either side of the aisle—that Mike Leavitt is supremely qualified to be the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.  And I would also say that no member disagrees that Mike Leavitt has the proper moderation, balance and temperament to handle the challenges that come with the job.

 

Gov. Leavitt is currently the longest serving governor in the nation, having ably served the people of Utah for 11 years.  Five times during his administration, independent public policy analysts have ranked Utah the nation’s best-managed state.

 

He is a former chairman of the National Governors Association, where he worked closely with two former governors on this committee: Sen. Voinovich and Sen. Carper.  He also chaired the Western Governors Association, the Republican Governors Association, and the Council of the States.  Before being elected governor of Utah in 1992, he served as an outside director of two large public corporations and was a member of the Utah State Board of Regents, overseeing the state’s nine colleges and universities.

 

Some environmental groups have airily dismissed these accomplishments.  True to form, they have maligned the Governor’s record.  The Sierra Club, for example, called Gov. Leavitt a “disappointing choice,” but never offered compelling proof to justify its opinion.  The reason is simple: the facts show that Gov. Leavitt’s environmental record is one of the best in the nation.

 

Just consider the Governor’s accomplishments on air quality: the state of Utah meets all federal air quality requirements.  Let me repeat that: the state of Utah meets all federal air quality requirements.  This was not the case before Gov. Leavitt took office.

 

Visibility in the West has improved dramatically, largely as a result of Gov. Leavitt’s service as co-chair of the Western Regional Air Partnership and vice-chair of the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission.  The commission made over 70 recommendations improving visibility in 16 national parks and wilderness areas on the Colorado Plateau.

Along with air quality, the American people view water quality as one of their top environmental priorities.  So does Gov. Leavitt.  During his 11-year tenure, Gov. Leavitt made great strides in improving Utah’s water.  The facts speak for themselves: the state’s watersheds are now among the cleanest in the nation.  Seventy-three percent of Utah’s streams currently meet federal water quality standards, compared to 59% ten years ago, a 24% improvement since Gov. Leavitt took office. Currently, 60% of the nation’s streams meet this standard.

Gov. Leavitt also implemented initiatives similar to legislation sponsored by Sen. Chafee, and which this committee, and the full Senate, approved unanimously.  In Utah, nearly 5,000 underground gas storage tanks have been cleaned up and upgraded, preventing toxic substances from entering the state’s water supply.  Also, the Environmental Protection Agency has adopted Utah’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, which reduce the impact of farming and ranching on water quality, as a national model.

As his record attests, Gov. Mike Leavitt is an excellent nominee and highly qualified to head EPA.  Unfortunately, as I noted earlier, much of this hearing will be focused on something else: President Bush’s environmental record. 

 

I’m confident we’ll hear the drumbeat of denunciations that began the day President Bush took office.  The litany goes something like this: the air is dirtier, more kids are suffering from asthma attacks and respiratory disease, precious lakes, rivers, streams, and forests are more polluted, and Big Oil’s campaign contributions are corrupting national environmental policy.

 

This kind of apocalyptic environmental rhetoric isn’t new. We heard it during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.  In 1992, the Sierra Club said, “We’ve learned the hard way that President Bush cannot be trusted.”  President Bush, of course, signed the 1990 Clean Air Act, including the highly successfully Acid Rain program, into law.  And today air quality by any measure has improved dramatically.  

 

This kind of invective is an effective fundraising tool for some groups—and one, I might add, that brings in a lot of money.  But none of this has any basis in fact.

 

So what are the facts?  On Monday, EPA released its 2003 air quality report.  The findings might shock some in this room.  Today the air is cleaner than the day President Bush took office.  SO2 emissions from power plants were 10.2 million tons in 2002, nine percent lower than in 2000.  NOx emissions from power plants also continued a downward trend, measuring 4.5 million tons in 2002, a 13 percent reduction from 2000.

 

There’s certainly more work to be done, and that’s why President Bush proposed his Clear Skies Initiative.  Clear Skies is the most aggressive presidential initiative in American history to reduce power plant emissions.  It will reduce emissions quicker and at lower cost than existing law and it is based on the 1990 Acid Rain Program, which has reduced SO2 emissions 50 percent, and achieved nearly 99 percent compliance.

In April of this year, President Bush announced a 90 percent reduction in off-road diesel fuel emissions.  EPA estimated that by 2030 the new regulations will prevent 9,600 premature deaths a year, along with 8,300 hospitalizations, 16,000 heart attacks, and 5,700 children's asthma-related emergency room visits.

Even environmental groups—who can’t stand to offer the President a hint of praise—couldn’t ignore it.  NRDC called it a “ bold proposal” that will be “the biggest public health step since lead was removed from gasoline more than two decades ago.”

Just after he took office, President Bush proposed landmark Brownfields legislation.  It passed unanimously in this committee, sailed through both houses of Congress by overwhelming margins, and will help clean up 500,000 brownfield sites all across the nation.  In July, EPA provided $73.1 million in grants to 37 states for this purpose. I say without hyperbole that this legislation was one of the most significant and successful bipartisan environmental accomplishments in a generation.

 

President Bush also took a stand on an important international environmental issue: the Treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POPS Treaty.  President Bush signed the treaty during a Rose Garden ceremony, and then urged this committee to pass implementing legislation sponsored by Sen. Chafee and Sen. Jeffords.

 

Now we’re going to hear a lot today about President Bush’s proposals on New Source Review, Superfund, and Healthy Forests.  I want to comment briefly on each of them.

 

·                 You’re going to hear that New Source Review reform amounts to the biggest clean air rollback in history.  Absolutely false.  NSR reform does not permit ANY pollution increases but merely allows companies to modernize their facilities and make them more efficient.

·                 You’re going to hear that under Superfund President Bush is letting polluters off the hook.  Absolutely false.  Whenever there is an identifiable, viable party responsible for a Superfund site, they pay.  And they are paying now.

·                 You’re going to hear that the President’s Healthy Forests Initiative is a gift to the timber industry to destroy our forests.  Absolutely false.  This initiative is designed to PREVENT forest fires that have so ravaged the livelihoods of families and businesses in the West.

 

I will say this: if our economy continues to grow and prosper—something President Bush is actively encouraging—our environment will continue to improve well into the future.  And President Bush’s policies will have a lot to do with it. 

 

I guarantee you this: President Bush and Gov. Mike Leavitt will further the progress we’ve made over the last 30 years.  History will show that key environmental indicators will improve faster, more aggressively, and at lower cost to the public.  As with the last 2 years, there will be no rollbacks, no setbacks, no pollution increases, and no deterioration from our present condition.  President Bush and Mike Leavitt will lead us into a new era of environmental protection.