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Bush nominates EPA leader to head HHS

Bush nominates EPA leader to head HHS

President Bush on Monday nominated Environmental Protection Agency director Michael Leavitt to replace Tommy Thompson as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Bush called Leavitt, the former governor of Utah and a devout Mormon, a "fine executive" and a "man of great compassion." "He's an ideal choice to lead one of the largest departments of the United States government," Bush said in announcing his selection in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Leavitt, 53, served as Utah's governor for 11 years before Bush appointed him to lead the Environmental Protection Agency last year. As a three-term governor, he chaired the National Governors Association. Leavitt, in the EPA job only a year, quickly won a reputation as a Bush loyalist. He also shares Bush's enthusiasm for technological and market-based approaches to fixing problems. At the EPA most of Leavitt's focus has been on crafting strategies to reduce air pollution. While in Utah he had cut several environmental deals with the Bush administration, including settling a long-standing dispute over ownership of roads across federal land. He also negotiated exchanges of state and federal land, some of them questioned by Interior Department auditors, and advocated a major highway extension through wetlands and wildlife habitat near the Great Salt Lake, a project halted by the 10th circuit U.S. court of appeals because of concerns about wildlife needs. If confirmed by the Senate, Leavitt will replace Thompson, who has headed HHS since the beginning of Bush's first term in 2001. Thompson announced his resignation December 3. Thompson has been a vocal supporter of Bush's push for abstinence-only sex and HIV education programs, and under his watch federal investigators have audited several AIDS service organizations for alleged misuse of government funds for programs that are said to be indecent or promote sexual activity. None of the audits found any such violations. Thompson also earlier this year decided to limit the number of U.S. researchers attending the biennial International AIDS Conference to just 50 people, down from more than 300 who attended the 2002 conference. Thompson said the decision was made to hold down travel costs, but AIDS activists said he was retaliating for being booed and heckled while giving a speech at the 2002 event. During Thompson's tenure the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was accused of placing inaccurate information on its Web site claiming that women who undergo abortions are more likely to develop breast cancer. The CDC also removed information from its Web site on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. (AP, with additional reporting by

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