Balancing Act

Western governors conference weighs pros and cons of environmental policy

"We're reading this as today's Sagebrush Rebellion," says Rob Smith of the Sierra Club. "All of these things that sound like friendly principles are really about shredding federal regulations."

Lewis Blumberg of the Wilderness Society called it "another in a series of proposals that would give states more control over federal laws."

The federal regulators think Enlibra will make their lives easier, but that the ultimate enforcement will not fall down.

"The backstop is still there," says Felicia Marcus, EPA regional administrator for the Southwest.

Enlibra advocates setting federal standards, but without the feds dictating how those standards are to be met. Trust us. It's an approach that has not worked so well here in Arizona, where the EPA has been sued repeatedly to force the state to set and meet Clean Air Act standards, where the Legislature just allowed the emissions control program to expire sarcastically.

The players took their usual polar positions in the discussion groups--jobs versus owls, biodiversity, bureaucratic red tape, Congressional interference, cost of litigation. But there was a civility of discussion that suggests Enlibra may be worth trying out. As the meeting came to a close, Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico suggested that the participating governors issue executive orders to bypass their respective legislatures and institute Enlibra. Then he suggested that they find conflicts to run through the process and report back to the association on its effectiveness.

One of the more surprising images of the conference was the pugnacious Dr. Robin Silver, whose Southwest Center for Biological Diversity has terrified the U.S. Forest Service for the past several years, chatting amiably with Elinor Towns, the service's southwest regional forester.

"We'd only ever communicated through lawyers before," said Silver.

Contact Michael Kiefer at his online address: mkiefer@newtimes.com

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