Honoring One of America’s Great Conservation Leaders – Bill Reilly

Reill Reilly3This past week, April 24th, I was privileged to introduce former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly at the Center for Environmental Policy’s (CEP) now annual Award for Environmental Leadership and Lecture named in Bill’s honor.  I serve on CEP’s advisory board.  It was a wonderful evening, with approximately 140 attendees, featuring an address by former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), who co-chaired the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

I served as Associate Deputy Administrator (a position more like a chief of staff, really) to Bill Reilly’s estimable Deputy, Hank Habicht, for only seven months at the tail end of Bush I’s term in 1992.  It was a great opportunity to work with the fine team assembled by Bill and Hank and, as a former state official, get inside the belly of the beast, so to speak.  I was able to learn about the inner workings of EPA across all programs.  It was an invaluable experience for my future job working on Great Lakes issues in Michigan and as Assistant Administrator for Water in Bush II working for Governor Christine Todd Whitman to whom I also owe a great debt for her support both professionally and personally.

Before sharing the substance of my remarks or introduction of Bill, let me mention that CEP is the creation of Dr. Dan Fiorino who formerly ran EPA’s Performance Track program, a highly successful initiative the kind of which seems to have fallen out of favor in the current administration.  While Dan and I overlapped at EPA, I did not make his acquaintance until I had the opportunity to read and review his outstanding contribution to the cause of regulatory innovation, The New Environmental Regulation (The MIT Press, 2006).  You can find my glowing review of the book here.

Dan’s life’s work, and the mission of CEP, is to pursue new models of interaction between government and governed in the environmental sphere.  I do not have time to go into details here-read my review-but he believes that government must become a learning organization if it is to keep up with the torrid pace of change in the private sector and technology and avoid becoming road kill on the information highway (my terms, not Dan’s).  Thus, the relationship between regulator and regulated has to be more interactive and characterized by mutual learning and information exchange.  Back to Bill Reilly.

From my perspective, Bill Reilly did the best job of any EPA Administrator of reconciling environmental protection with economic growth.  He was an outstanding leader.  Bill displayed outstanding leadership abilities despite the encumbrances which positions of authority inevitably bring with them.  The text of my introduction follows:

There is a fundamental distinction between the roles of those who exercise leadership and those who exercise authority in government or other large organizations.  These functions can overlap but remain distinct.  For those who occupy positions of authority, the exercise of true leadership can be difficult in the extreme.  The restraints of law, regulatory process, political considerations, and the inertia of “intergovernmental consultation” can make it almost impossible to clearly articulate necessary truths or blaze a new and better trail toward sound policy and outcomes.

Martin Luther King never served in a position of authority, but his moral authority was unparalleled in American history.

On rare occasions, when the stars are in proper alignment, leadership and authority are combined in one person at a particular time and place.  No doubt, we all have our favorite examples of this happy confluence-Churchill, Lincoln, and FDR come to mind.

In the realm of conservation and environmental policy and governance, William K. Reilly stands out as an individual who has been able to lead on matters of policy while exercising authority, judiciously, to implement those policies to the benefit of the nation’s environment and its citizens who depend on it.

As a state official managing delegated EPA programs in the Midwest for much of Bill’s tenure, I can testify to the influence Bill had on those of us working throughout the country.  In the setting of compelling, aspirational goals, goals that actually elicited concrete actions, no one was better than Bill Reilly.  Moreover, he communicated a set of principles to guide action which was grounded in the best science and wise and prudent practice.

Let me offer one example.  At EPA Bill announced his 33/50 program, a voluntary effort to target 17 priority chemicals.  The aim was to reduce releases and transfers by 33 percent by 1992 and 50 percent by 1995.  As it turns out, all of these goals were met and exceeded with the 1992 goal achieved a year in advance.

This national invitation to pollution reduction energized many in private industry and state and local governments all over America.  While serving as director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resource, I convened meetings in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield to promote the 33/50 program.  The response was overwhelming, packing hotel meeting rooms with corporate environmental, health and safety (EHS) officials anxious to brag and promote their own efforts at pollution reduction and learn what others were doing.

Consider, too, these other examples of imaginative and consequential leadership which Bill Reilly was able to operationalize both at EPA and the other nongovernmental organizations which he ran:

*No net loss of wetlands

*Geographic or watershed programs at scale (Great Lakes, the Gulf, etc.)

*Market-based incentives, most notably acid rain trading embodied in the CAA Amendment of 1990

*Green Lights and other voluntary programs, like 33/50 which mobilized the expertise and good will of the private sector and civil society.

It is a great pleasure to introduce the man in whose name we gather here tonight.  It is particularly important that the students here tonight understand what he has accomplished.

So, to recap:

Bill Reilly served with distinction as Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency and as President of the Conservation Foundation.  He headed the US delegation to the UN Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, and, more recently, co-chaired President Obama’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

Bill is also Chairman Emeritus of the Board of World Wildlife Fund and Chairman Emeritus of the Board of the Climate Works Foundation.  He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Science.  A graduate of Yale and Harvard Law, Bill served in the U.S. Army to the rank of Captain.

Please join me in honoring William K. Reilly who embodies the best in authoritative leadership in American conservation and environmental policy.