Kempthorne Still Waiting for Word on EPA Job

More than two months have passed since Christine Todd Whitman announced she was resigning as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. By all accounts, the front-runner to succeed her in that post is Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R.), a pro-business conservative who formerly served in the U.S. Senate.

Kempthorne met with White House staffers on June 11 to discuss the position, and his office has signaled that he would accept it if offered. Yet, the White House is dallying on making a nomination.

Fear of a confirmation battle with extreme environmentalists, several congressional sources say, is the principal reason for the White House delay. Kempthorne is a longtime critic of excessive EPA regulations and was a leader of opposition to President Clinton’s rules putting new areas in federal forests off-limits to logging. The White House, these sources worry, may now be leaning toward a nominee more sympathetic to the “greens.”

“I always thought that the administrator of the EPA should be an advocate for the environment and I don’t think that’s the role Dirk Kempthorne has filled either as governor or as a senator from Idaho,” Barry Rosenberg, executive director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, told the Spokane Spokesman Review a day after Kempthorne’s White House interview.

Conservatives believe that as EPA Administrator Kempthorne would be likely to remove holdovers from previous administrations who still occupy key positions in the agency and who take the harsh anti-business line favored by environmental activists.

When Whitman first announced her resignation, several Republicans on the Senate Environment Committee sent signals to the White House that they would not be pleased if the initial front runner, Florida Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs, was selected. Struhs was previously environment chief for former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (the notoriously liberal Republican whom President Clinton tried to make ambassador to Mexico). He is also the brother-in-law of White House chief of staff Andrew Card, and has a reputation as a supporter of tough, anti-business regulations. Most notably, he backs Section 129 of the Clean Air Act, which permits downwind states to sue upwind states for permitting their air pollution to cross the border. (The New York Times has since reported that Struhs has been “passed over” for EPA.)

Two other oft-mentioned contenders, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R.) and former North Carolina Environment Secretary Bill Cobey, have removed their names from consideration.

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said last week the administration was “moving as quickly as possible” on replacing Whitman.