Michael O. Leavitt has been sworn in as the 10th Administrator of the United States Environmental Pro-tection Agency after the resignation of Christine Todd Whitman. Leavitt was Governor of Utah for eleven years.

In his first major speech on December 2, 2003, he spoke of Utah's environmental accomplishments, including the net zero waste accomplishments of the 2002 Winter Olympics. He also shared a number of stories to elucidate his position and role as head of the EPA. Most importantly, Leavitt discussed his theory on environmental stewardship known as the Enlibra Principles.

Leavitt co-authored the Principles with former Governor John Kitzhaber, D-OR, while struggling with complex environmental issues ranging from air quality over the Grand Canyon to salmon habitats. Enlibra is derived from Latin roots, meaning "moving toward balance" and emphasizes collaboration over confrontation. The Principles can be used for a variety of applications.

  • National Standards, Neighborhood Solutions - Assign responsibilities at the right level by keeping the federal government focused on national standards and allowing the local governments to determine the best plan of action.
  • Collaboration, Not Polarization - Leavitt believes that real problem-solving takes place in the productive center and not at the emotional extremes. It is his opinion that collaboration at the center is a viable method to break down barriers and find solutions.
  • Reward Results, Not Programs - Move to a performance-based, rather than a process-based, system.
  • Science for Facts, Process for Priorities - This means reaching agreement on underlying facts as well as the range of uncertainties that often accompany environmental problems before framing choices. When agreement on scientific facts cannot be reached, decision-makers must recognize their role in evaluating the information and making the difficult policy choices.
  • Markets before Mandates - Pursue economic incentives whenever appropriate.
  • Change a Heart, Change a Nation - by strengthening the understanding of people's relationship with the environment through education and training.
  • Recognition of Benefits and Costs - by making fully informed environmental decisions that include considering issues such as the true cost of waste and life-cycle, while acknowledging non-economic factors, such as equity within and across generations.
  • Solutions Transcend Political Boundaries - Because environmental problems have natural rather than socio-economic or political boundaries, a focus should be placed on the natural boundary for solutions to problems. This means cross-border collaborations facilitated by participatory governments designed to nurture solutions that impact the full range of affected interests.

Leavitt initiates his process by developing 500-day dynamic plans for each major program, within a 5,000-day horizon. The plans are reviewed and revised every 200 days. For example, his 500-day Water Quality Plan is framed by nine guiding principles that reflect the Enlibra Principles, six key indicators that will be used to measure success, and five major strategies with as many as ten action steps per strategy.

Developing plans is not new for the EPA; however, moving so quickly with such a concise agenda that details measurable objectives is. This technique is risky because it can cultivate either an environment for achievement or fall prey to missed deadlines and unachievable outcomes. The downside of this risk may unfortunately translate into a further widening of the growing environmental chasm that has emanated from environmental policy gridlock over the past several years. It's apparent that Leavitt recognizes this issue and is responding by attempting to gain immediate support from environmentalists and institutions that have made significant investments in environmental improvements by stating that his first goal will be compliance. He has made a commitment that "anyone who evades the law should feel the full weight of the law until compliance is met."

Although Leavitt's initial communications on what he plans to do seem somewhat naïve when operating within EPA's bureaucratic system, it's exciting to see real ideas and opinions on how some long-standing and stagnant environmental issues may be addressed. There is no doubt that if it were entirely up to Mike Leavitt, the EPA would be on the brink of operating in an entirely different way.

It remains to be seen how his strong positions on planning and process will translate under the pressure of economics and politics. After all, the not so quiet whispers that are still hypothesizing the real reasons why Whitman resigned suspect the Bush Administration for undermining her efforts. Let's hope Leavitt's term is more Enlibra.