EPA chief addresses crowd in Keystone | SummitDaily.com

EPA chief addresses crowd in Keystone

KEYSTONE Technology will help solve curbing greenhouse gas emissions, EPA administrator Stephen Johnson said Thursday afternoon, addressing several hundred attorneys from around the country to start the American Bar Associations 35th annual environmental law conference.Running through Sunday, the gathering at the Keystone Conference Center features several panel discussions focusing on environmental issues that will affect the quality of life in the High Country.A Saturday session will explore recent changes in the U.S. Supreme Court, and how the newly appointed justices might rule in a pair of critical wetlands cases. The cases were argued Feb. 21, and the decisions could fundamentally alter the way wetlands impacts are regulated, potentially putting more of a burden on state authorities.The conference also features a panel talk on the Endangered Species Act, the powerful environmental law that looms over any Summit County land-use decisions with potential impacts to species like the boreal toad and the Canada lynx. Johnsons remarks came during a hurried keynote speech that included an overview of the EPAs 35-year history. But he offered no specifics on how the agency will meet its latest challenges, including its stated goal of maintaining and improving the environment in the Rocky Mountains while aggressively pursuing energy development in the region.Some air and water quality experts at the agencys regional headquarters in Denver dont think the EPA is meeting that objective. A 2003 survey of employees in the region by a watchdog and whistleblower protection group showed that more than half of the respondents believed the environmental protection is playing second fiddle to the aggressive pursuit of energy development in the region.In general, the survey by Public Employees for Environmental Ethics (PEER) suggested a demoralized agency that is starved for resources, suffering from increasing politicization and losing scientific experts due to attrition without bringing in the needed replacements.Johnson painted a rosy environmental picture in his remarks, explaining how the agency has contributed to a marked overall improvement of the nations environment since the 1960s and 1970s. He said progress has been made both at the corporate level, as businesses realize that good environmental stewardship can boost the bottom line, as well as on the individual level, as environmentalism grows in the hearts and minds of citizens.He said the EPA will focus on results and accountability, making the best possible use of taxpayer dollars, and rely on innovation and collaboration to address environmental concerns. He said the agency will continue to ensure that the best available science remains at the heart of the environmental decision-making process. The EPA will also play a key role in supporting the Bush administrations goal of replacing 75 percent of imported oil with alternative energy sources during the next few decades, he concluded.Johnson was questioned by a Los Angeles Times reporter regarding a fundraising appearance earlier Thursday in Denver. Johnson said the trip fully complied with the 1939 Hatch Act, a law that prohibits using any public funds designated for relief or public works for electoral purposes.For more information on the environmental law conference, go to http://www.abanet.org/environ/programs/ keystone/2006/schedule.html.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.

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