President George Bush saluted the Senate action. “Gov. Leavitt is an exceptional leader who shares my commitment to reaching out across partisan lines to get things done. I know he will work closely with me to build upon my administration's initiatives to make our air and water cleaner, protect the land, and use technology to improve our environment while our economy grows and creates jobs.”

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, which is responsible for moving the nomination through the Senate, said he thinks that Leavitt was “treated unfairly and unduly harshly” throughout the nominating process.

The Senate overwhelming approval of Leavitt as the next EPA leader was proof of his overwhelming bipartisan support, according to Inhofe.

“I don’t think anyone is surprised by today’s vote, as Mike Leavitt is one of the most highly qualified and experienced individuals ever nominated for this job,” Inhofe says. “I would note that some of the members who blocked this nomination refused to speak their minds or cast their votes on the Senate floor today.”

Several Democratic senators, including New York's Hillary Rodham Clinton, objected to Leavitt's nomination more in protest to the Bush administration's environmental policies than to the Utah governor's environmental record.

Sen. Clinton, for example, placed a hold on the nomination because of EPA's refusal to explain why it gave an all-clear on the air quality situation in lower Manhattan following the attacks on the World Trade Center when subsequent tests indicated the air was contaminated. She lifted the hold after EPA officials promised to provide further testing.

But another senator, Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said he wanted more time to hear from congressional researchers about Leavitt's record in Utah and whether he "shares the same disregard for" the environment he said was shown by President Bush.

EPA's acting administrator, meanwhile, said the agency welcomed Leavitt's confirmation.

“The Senate vote confirming Mike Leavitt is great news for the agency and for our mission of continued protection of human health and the environment,” said Marianne Horinko. “Mike is a thoughtful leader who will bring to EPA his strengths of collaborative environmental management, his commitment to air and water quality and land conservation and his dedication to ensuring effective stewardship of our natural resources.

“From what I understand, he is expected to start here as early as the end of next week. I know Mike Leavitt is looking forward to coming here as much as we are looking forward to having him. I know he will be a great administrator and I am pleased at the Senate vote,” Horinko said.

The environmental community’s reaction to the vote was not as enthusiastic.

"I hope Gov. Leavitt gets the right message from this vote,” said Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. “Senators had no problem with him personally, and that's all it means. But if he reads 88 to 8 as an endorsement of the White House's catering to corporate polluters, he's in for just as rocky and embarrassing a ride as Christie Whitman had."

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com