States Push Flexibility At Environmental Policy Forum

State and local leaders who hope to expand their influence over environmental policy and get more flexibility in meeting national standards for protecting the air, water, land and public health are receiving encouragement from key members of Congress and the Bush administration.

With the political parties evenly split in the U.S. Senate and the Republicans holding thin majority control of the House, few observers expected meaningful activity on environmental policy in the 107th Congress.

But state officials attending a two-day environmental policy forum in Washington, DC sponsored by business interests expressed cautious optimism on prospects for a state-friendly federal brownfields redevelopment bill.

They also hope their expanded commitment of money and manpower to police environmental regulations over the last decade will earn them greater latitude from an administration teeming with experience in state and local government."Realistically, while I strongly support major change, I think we have to do this incrementally. I think there needs to be a buildup of trust on some of these issues and the administration needs to take a leadership role," George Meyer, president of the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), told Stateline.org.

Meyer, a thirty-year veteran of Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources who led the agency under former Gov. Tommy Thompson, was one of several public officials to address the annual summit of the National Environmental Policy Institute ( NEPI ).

"President Bush is determined to make sure that state and local priorities move to Washington," U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman told nearly 250 representatives of business, government and academia in the summit's keynote address.

Whitman endorsed NEPI's stated mission of "seeking common ground to reach environmental goals."

A bipartisan organization of current and former public officials with fiscally conservative leanings, NEPI says it seeks to balance environmental and economic concerns in Congress and rulemaking agencies.

Environmental activists were conspicuously absent from the summit, whose leading sponsors included EPA, the American Chemistry Council, Enron, AT&T, Bethlehem Steel and Phillips Petroleum.

But summit participants included Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening (D), who described his state's highly touted efforts to curb sprawl, preserve land and strengthen communities, and U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) who received a top score from the League of Conservation Voters for his performance in the 106th Congress.

NEPI executive director Mary Brooks Beatty declined to say how much sponsors contributed. She said the summit was open to all participants.