If President Bush asks Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) to become the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Kempthorne said Thursday (6/19) it would be his responsibility to take the job.
"Any citizen who is asked by the president of the United States to consider a task that he has identified, I think that citizen has to truly consider that as part of your responsibility," Kempthorne said in an interview with Stateline.org at the Western Governors' Association (WGA) Forest Health Summit in Missoula, Mont.
But Kempthorne said Bush has yet to offer him the job.
"No, he hasn't made that call," Kempthorne said. He said he has discussed the possibility with administration officials.
Speculation over a possible replacement for outgoing EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman has been rampant since she announced last month that she was leaving the post. Whitman's tenure as the top environmental official in the Bush administration was marked by controversy, as both environmental and industry groups complained about her performance.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday (6/18) that Kempthorne met last week with White House officials to discuss "his perspective on the EPA as a governor and former senator." Other news reports have named Kempthorne as the top candidate, with other candidates, such as Tom Skinner, administrator of the EPA's Midwest region, and Linda Fisher, Whitman's deputy, still in the running.
Kempthorne said he doesn't know where he stands compared to the other candidates.
"It would not be right for me to speculate, if the president has not, I don't know what his list (of candidates) is, I don't know when he will make a decision and I don't know what my role might be on that list, so until then I'm focused on my responsibilities as governor," Kempthorne told Stateline.org.
Kempthorne, 51, has served as Idaho's governor since 1998, winning re-election in 2002. He served one term in the U.S. Senate (1993-1998).
While a senator, Kempthorne's voting record came under sharp criticism from environmental groups for his efforts to reduce the role of the federal government in crafting and enforcing environmental policy.
The League of Conservation Voters gave Kempthorne a near-zero rating during his term as Senator, The Post reported.
Kempthorne, however, said he has a long record of working closely with environmental groups.
"I do get along with environmental groups," Kempthorne said.
"If you look at our Western Governors' Association and my work on the National Fire Plan, there are members of the Wilderness Society here that were a part of that and affirmed that. There are a number of areas where we have sat at the table together look at our progress on salmon with the governors. Not everyone agreed with everything we are doing but we declared the era of studies over, and now we're implementing on the ground improvements in critical habitat," Kempthorne said.
The Wilderness Society's Chris Mehl said that based on the Bush administration's environmental record, environmentalists will be suspicious of any candidate proposed to lead the EPA.
"[Kempthorne's] record in Idaho indicates that he'll fit right in with the Bush administration," Mehl said.
Kempthorne is the incoming chair of the National Governors' Association and the co-lead on forest health for the WGA.
He made a grand entrance at the WGA's Forest Health Summit this week, arriving on a Harley Davidson motorcycle after driving 450 miles to Missoula from Boise, Idaho. During his keynote address Wednesday (6/18), Kempthorne said that it's not possible to appreciate the beauty of the mountainous West until you experience it from the seat of a Harley.
"I passed some of the most scenic, majestic land anywhere in the world. For those who suggest that we don't know what we have, that we don't appreciate it, I disagree," Kempthorne said.