Balancing Act

Rob Smith, head of the Sierra Club in these parts, is a mild-mannered, middle-aged man. He doesn't look like a bomb thrower. So he was taken aback when the Phoenix police detective approached him in a courtyard at the Pointe Hilton Resort at Tapatio Cliffs, where he was awaiting the start of the Western Governors Association Environmental Summit on the West last Friday.

The detective had read in the Arizona Republic that morning that environmentalists were going to "crash the Western governors' party," and he wanted Smith to know that the police would be watching the demonstration closely.

"We're having a press conference, not a demonstration," Smith responded politely, and then, as the irk rose to his voice, he asked, "Are you speaking to the ranchers, too?"

There was no need for demonstration, no need for the environmentalists to crash the party.

They had been invited, as had the ranchers and the loggers and the miners, the federal regulatory agencies, and department heads from 18 states to discuss a newly proposed environmental problem-solving process devised by the governors of Utah and Oregon.

They call it Enlibra--like the zodiac sign--meaning "in balance." Despite the New Agey name, its slogany language seems to borrow the style of Total Quality Management. It talks of markets and outcomes, and its intent is to sidestep the environmental litigation that has effectively curtailed the extractive industries in the West over the past several years. The feds and the state agencies are gung ho on the idea; the environmentalists worry that it may just be a kinder, gentler Sagebrush Rebellion.

But the summit was a love fest. The conference hall was packed with all the usual antagonists--from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Council on Environmental Quality to farm bureaus, cattlemen's associations and chambers of commerce. Not to mention the environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and National Wildlife Federation.

There were all the usual arguments, too. But the enviros lacked their usual sarcasm, and the industries forgot their usual secessionist rhetoric. And the regulatory folks were just pleased as punch.

"It's a tribute to the foresight of the Western Governors Association," gushed Jamie Rappaport Clark, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We don't like lawsuits either. I used to joke that lawsuits at the Fish and Wildlife Service are like occupant mail."

Over the past decade, resource management in the West has swung from the Reagan administration, when loggers and miners and ranchers ruled, to a period where environmentalists with as much background in law as in biology could shut the forest down.

"Paradoxically, it is growth that both energizes the current economic prosperity and threatens the other qualities that Western citizens seek to protect," begins the position paper that describes Enlibra.

"This summit is about better problem-solving," said Utah Governor Mike Leavitt. "Conflict is an important part of problem-solving. The intent is not to eliminate the conflict, but to minimize the conflict."

The Enlibra concept was thought out by Leavitt, a Republican, and John Kitzhaber, a Democrat from Oregon. Both governors impressed the conference attendees with their frankness and informality. Leavitt is the slicker of the two, besuited and businesslike; Kitzhaber, in boots and jeans and blazer, looks like a retired ski instructor. The event was moderated by Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer, who wins the folksiness award, hands down, a charming and witty man with a voice and visage not unlike Hugh Downs.

Their smooth show certainly upstaged Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull, who sat quietly at the table during the opening sessions. She skipped out before the discussion sessions, in which governors and conference attendees talked out the finer points of the Enlibra proposal, saying that she needed to attend to a special session of the Legislature.

When commenting on the environment, Hull has consistently taken the hard stand, declaiming federal regulations as "War on the West," calling the Clean Air Act a "tyrannical fist of a law badly in need of renovation and downsizing."

Before she slipped away from the summit, she told New Times that Enlibra "to me is a way to say let's get people together and talk about it. It talks about consensus, and everyone has to give a little bit."

But the particulars are slippery.
As Leavitt and Kitzhaber and Geringer describe Enlibra, it's clear that they view regulation and litigation as hurtful to economies, without acknowledging that the regulation came out of abuses and the litigation out of forcing the regulatory agencies to follow the laws.

The eight principles of Enlibra read like slogans: National Standards, Neighborhood Solutions; Collaboration Not Polarization; Reward Results, Not Programs; Science for Facts, Process for Priorities; Markets Before Mandates; Change a Heart, Change a Nation; Recognition of Benefits and Costs; Solutions Transcend Political Boundaries.

All the talk of markets makes environmentalists worry that it's just another way of saying that the economy, which can be measured in dollars, is more important than habitat and biodiversity, which cannot. And they question whether the Enlibra-ites really want to let the free market have its way with logging and ranching and mining--or if, as is more likely, they want to leave all of the government subsidies in place in those industries, and fall back on the same old argument that if you shut down the mill, then people will lose their jobs. Similarly, paying the mortgage would take priority over the environment, if decisions were made locally. And what would happen to actual enforcement of the law? Would Enlibra have any teeth, or would it be voluntary?

"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: [email protected]

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Michael Kiefer