Opening Remarks

Gov. Mike Leavitt

September 17, 2003

 

Mr. Chairman, I am honored that President Bush has nominated me as Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  I sit before you today, respectful of your role and ready for your assessment of my fitness to serve. 

 

In the weeks leading up to this hearing, I have had the opportunity to visit with nearly all of you.  You have been candid and generous with your time and insights.  Thank you and the committee staff for the courtesies extended.

 

Our conversation today will likely have two components: my fitness to serve as administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the policy differences that exist on environmental issues.  As a governor who has served for more than a decade, I understand the complexities, emotions, fears and conflicting values that are fundamental to environmental issues.  I'll do my best to be responsive to your questions and sensitive to our differences. 

 

When President Bush announced my nomination, I described an experience I had at the Grand Canyon at age eight.   My family arrived at the south rim at twilight, just in time to see a giant shadow creep across the canyon. 

 

Thirty-six years later, I stood at nearly the same spot, but as the governor of Utah.  This time, a brown haze stretched across the sky that had once been so clear.   I was there to co-lead a commission, charged with rescuing that view.

 

The Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission was created under the Clean Air Act.  We were to convene states, tribal nations, federal agencies, local governments, private industries and environmental groups to protect the air over this international treasure.  If we failed in five years, the law made clear the federal government would take on the task.

 

Four years passed and nobody budged.  Every state, tribe and local government protected its turf.  Industry and environmental groups traded barbs; it looked to me like the whole thing would implode. 

 

As the five-year deadline approached, slowly the group began to unite.  Serious problem solving and collaboration began to occur, and, ultimately, a 20-year plan was developed.  We developed a way for every state to design its own plan that met national standards.  Importantly, we agreed that if a state failed to meet the standard, a mandatory market-trading system would kick in.

 

This experience taught me that enforceable national standards can be a catalyst to bring parties together, but national standards work best if participants are allowed to use innovative neighborhood strategies. 

 

The Grand Canyon effort changed environmental problem solving in the West and led to the creation of the Western Regional Air Partnership, a collaboration of three federal agencies, 13 states and 13 tribal nations.  We now have a region-wide plan for SO2 and we're closing in on a NOX agreement. 

 

The Western Regional Air Partnership has taught me that environmental solutions (just like environmental problems) transcend political boundaries.

 

These experiences in cleaning up the air in the West, and many experiences since, have caused a well-defined environmental philosophy to crystallize in me.  The philosophy is called "Enlibra."  The word is derived from Latin roots and means "to move toward balance."  Balance, in this context doesn't mean splitting the difference, but rather to apply the collective wisdom of the productive middle ground to make environmental progress. 

 

Former Governor John Kitzhaber (D-Ore) and I, coined the word Enlibra as we compared experiences. We were in different political parties and dealt with different environmental problems, yet both of us saw environmental disputes dividing our communities, diminishing our nation's economic competitiveness, costing the public millions of dollars in legal battles and taking decades to resolve.  We concluded there has to be a better way. 

 

The two of us were joined by another dozen governors and invited hundreds of environmental practitioners of every persuasion to help capture the principles that lead to balance: balance between this generation and the next, balance between sustainable environments and sustainable economies and balance among regions.

 

The outcome was a simple set of beliefs, a philosophy, a shared doctrine of environmental management. 

 

For example, one of the principles is "Markets before Mandates" - a belief that people move farther and faster when they move willingly.  Another is "Reward Results, Not Programs" - we should value and measure improvement, not the rote adherence to regimen.  

 

A story illustrates another principle of Enlibra: "Collaboration, Not Polarization." 

 

I've been party to hundreds of environmental clean ups, including dozens of Superfund and Brownfield projects.  One I'm especially proud of occurred in the Salt Lake metropolitan area and is the largest mine-related water reclamation project in the history of the United States.

 

Groundwater contamination from the Kennecott Copper Mine threatened the water supply of Utah's population center.  The state of Utah worked with Kennecott, the local water district and the EPA to organize a remediation plan that will clean up the groundwater and provide 8,000 acre-feet of drinking water per year.  It was accomplished without a dime of Superfund money and in a fraction of the time it would have taken if it had become a Superfund site. It was a great collaboration, and it occurred because well-meaning people (industry and regulators alike), joined together to solve a problem in a cost-effective and timely way.  This was Enlibra in action. 

 

Every significant step of environmental progress I've been involved in has been a product of collaboration.  Collaboration does not eliminate litigation, but it can minimize it.  Collaboration doesn't take away hard decisions, but it improves acceptance.  Collaboration doesn't lead to instant solutions, but it does accelerate progress.  Most importantly, first-rate collaborations are more than compromise; they are problem-solving expeditions that penetrate the fortress of polarized extremes. 

 

Collaborations always have critics, cynics and saboteurs.  They regularly break down and often fail, but those that break through become beachheads of innovation, staging areas for progress, launching pads for new technology. 

 

Moreover, successful collaborations restore people's confidence in their government.  They show we can do more than fight, that we can find common ground to serve the common good.

 

I would like to share one more story that illustrates a principle of Enlibra.  In February of 2002 it was the privilege of our country and my state to host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.  Working with federal and state agencies and volunteers, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee set four environmental goals:

 

* Net zero air emissions,

* Zero waste,

* Complete compliance with all federal, state and local environmental standards, and,

* The planting of 100,000 trees. 

 

These became more than Olympic goals, they were national goals.  Federal, state and local environmental officials spent seven years planning, preparing and training.  In the final execution we accomplished everything we set out to do.

 

What is the explanation for this success?  I like to think it had something to do with a largely emblematic, but meaningful symbol.  A worker assigned to the Olympic environmental effort explained it to me:

 

Everyone on our team wore those funky purple Olympic coats.  We had people from the EPA and other federal agencies working along side workers from state and local government, private sector professionals and volunteers.  We all looked the same.  Once we all wore the same color jacket nobody said, "that's not my job."  It was about getting the job done.  We were Americans unified in a goal that enlisted every spectator, every athlete and every vendor.  We did it. 

 

The Enlibra principle employed here is simple: Change a Heart, Change a Nation.  The key to environmental progress is not the federal code alone; it's our ethical code.  It is the aggregate of our individual commitment to care for this planet, to protect our natural assets, to ensure that our citizens' health and safety are protected. 

 

In closing, I would like to express my admiration for the dedicated professionals who work for the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  Many in the agency have devoted their career to the noble pursuit of protecting our environment.  In my nearly 11 years as governor, I have observed their expertise and my first priority, should you confirm me, would be to reach out and learn from these dedicated employees and earn their trust.

 

Mr. Chairman, if confirmed, I pledge to you, the Senate and the American people my full commitment that I will give this aspiration the full measure of my heart.  There will always be genuine disagreement, but my aspiration is to achieve unity in our beliefs, so we can attain harmony in our purpose.  I will listen to the views of all stakeholders and all points of view.  I will work to make environmental protection more than an agency; I will make it an ethic.

 

Thank you.