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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Whitman Successor

Air Date: Week of

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Idaho Governor and former Senator Dirk Kempthorne's name is at the top of the list to become the new Environmental Protection Agency head. From member station KBSX in Boise, Jyl Hoyt reports the agency and the governor have had a rocky relationship in Idaho.



CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. The name of Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne is now first on the list of candidates to run the Environmental Protection Agency when Christie Todd Whitman steps down at the end of the month.

Governor Kempthorne is a Republican and a former United States senator who has been at odds with the EPA in his own state and favors greater local control over regulation. From member station KBSX in Boise, Idaho Jyl Hoyt reports there's a good chance Governor Kempthorne will get Senate approval to be the nation's next top enviro-cop.

HOYT: If Idaho governor Dirk Kempthorne becomes chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, he’ll lead a body that he's spent years fighting in Idaho. As part of a massive cleanup of metal mining waste, the EPA wanted to name Lake Coeur d’Alene a Superfund site. Kempthorne and many Idahoans thought the agency was wasting money and they feared the label “Superfund” would hurt tourism and property values.

Governor Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho (R) (Photo courtesy of Wildland Fire Leadership Council)   

KEMPTHORNE: I told the EPA that I am so frustrated with them that I’m on the verge of inviting them to leave the state of Idaho.

HOYT: In a sense, he succeeded. The Coeur d’Alene site is now the first attempt in the nation to conduct a federal Superfund project through a state chartered commission. But Idaho has little money to clean up the site and the new commission has been criticized for having little power to enforce. It's an example of Kempthorne's longtime commitment to local control and local standards, even if, for example, those standards allow higher levels of lead, cadmium and zinc in Idaho's South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River. Bill Sedivy, director of Idaho Rivers United, is wary of Kempthorne as EPA chief.

SEDIVY: Certainly, Governor Kempthorne is no friend of the environment.

HOYT: Sedivy says an Office of Species Conservation that Kempthorne created works to keep endangered wildlife off the endangered species list.

SEDIVY: The creation of that agency really decimated an outstanding Idaho Department of Fish and Game which had been a leader in the West in such issues as salmon recovery and habitat restoration.

HOYT: But John Sandoval, chief of staff at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, applauds Kempthorne’s environmental record in the U.S. Senate and Idaho.

SANDOVAL: He is probably the best advocate for environmental protection in Idaho. He is sometimes referred to as being pro-industry and pro-business, and maybe there is some truth to that, but I also think that he is also pro-protection of public health and the environment.

HOYT: While in the Senate Kempthorne championed amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act that helped rural areas improve their drinking water while minimizing the financial burden. He pushed through the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act which requires agencies to make public the financial costs of proposed regulation. He worked with Democrats to reform the Endangered Species Act to give property owners greater regulatory certainty in exchange for species protection. That bill wasn’t successful, says Boise State political scientist Jim Weatherby, but the collaboration was.

WEATHERBY: I think in both the ESA and Safe Drinking Water Act legislation he again demonstrated his consensus building skills.

HOYT: Many of Kempthorne's former colleagues in the U.S. Senate hold him in high regard. Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee, who serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, says he would support the Idaho governor to head the EPA.

CHAFEE: There’s a great deal of respect and affection for him and I think he’s held in high esteem here.

HOYT: Lawmakers, political scientists, and environmentalists agree that one major challenge facing the next EPA administrator is how to assert control. Boise State political scientist John Freemuth.

FREEMUTH: The biggest concern I would have if I was Dirk Kempthorne going in is whether I could get carte-blanche from the White House to lead EPA without political interference from White House operatives and staff.

HOYT: Several observers, Democrat and Republican, noted that these days the environmental shots are being called from the White House, not the EPA. For Living on Earth, I’m Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.



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