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Environmental and budget issues dominate EENR meeting.

The members of the NLC Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources (EENR) Steering Committee worked through a heavy agenda packed with issues from clean water, Superfund, the federal budget and takings, to regional efforts to find solutions to environmental problems. The policy unit convened in San Jose.

Led by Council Vice President Lucille Brogden of Hyattsville, Maryland, the committee focused on the role of local governments in the enormous changes of governance that will affect the nation's cities. City leaders discussed national policy changes to ensure that cities have a direct role in affecting changes in federal law important to both costs and public health and safety in cities and towns.

"In all the talk of turning back or devolving responsibilities to states and local governments," Brogden said, "we have a key responsibility to ensure that resources are returned, that recognition that air and water do not comply with city or state boundaries is kept in mind, and that - most importantly - the ultimate responsibility and liability will always end up with city leaders." San Jose, California Vice Mayor Trixie Johnson hosted the two-day meeting, providing the committee with tours of the city's municipal wastewater sewage treatment plant and its convention center.

Environmental Legislation

EENR committee members set clean water as their highest priority for action for the September meeting in Hattiesburg, Miss., but also intend to look more closely at national Superfund policy issues. The committee wants to ensure more involvement of local governments in developing and implementing solutions.

Members also believe that it is imperative to recognize that environmental problems do not adhere to political boundaries; therefore, designing solutions requires intergovernmental approaches. Government officials along with representatives from industry and non-governmental agencies must participate in resolving problems.

Takings

The committee spent time on a lively debate on the evolving issue of takings legislation. With the Supreme Court, Congress, and nearly 20 state legislatures making decisions that could affect land use and zoning rights, responsibilities, and liabilities of all cities, all six of NLC's steering committees are considering the issue.

The current debate focuses on governmental regulations that do not take actual possession of but rather regulate the use of property. As a result of that regulation, the value of the property decreases. Current legislative proposals identify the loss of use based on a certain percentage or, worst yet, an assessment which is left open to various definitions.

A panel of attorneys provided insight into the implications of the takings debate currently under way in Congress and in many state legislatures. The panel identified the possibility that cities could be sued by both sides in a dispute over a perceived takings: those who feel the value of their property has been diminished and neighbors who oppose the use that would result once the restriction has been lifted.

For instance, the panel cited the recent Edmonds Supreme Court decision overruling a municipality's single family zoning ordinance to require permitting a group home for the handicapped to comply with the federal Fair Housing Act. Under a number of takings bills, a family or group of families in such a city would be able to sue the city because the decision to locate a group home in their neighborhood would have an adverse impact on the value of their property, thus constituting a "taking."

As one member said, `Under this emerging federal plan, cities lose no matter what. We simply become the eternal deep pocket for everybody else."

The lawyers' panel noted that federal decisions appear to be moving from the former legal position that development was a right conferred by a city, state, or the federal government. But now, they opined, development is becoming like a right, any limitation of which by any level of government would constitute a violation of the developer's rights.

The EENR committee unanimously urged NLC's Board to continue current opposition to federal attempts to restrict state and local governments' actions to regulate private property within the confines established by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Brownfields

Another hot topic of discussion was brownfields. Brownfields are usually abandoned properties previously used for industrial purposes. Cities experience extreme difficulty in making this land reusable. The committee considered how national efforts might assist to make these areas environmentally and economically viable once again. A major stumbling block to redevelopment is the concern of third parties who are interested in developing a site but fear being held liable once they become the owners. This issue also interests the Community and Economic Development (CED) and Finance, on, and Intergovernmental Relations (FAIR) committees. The EENR committee focuses on the environmental clean up aspects related to brownfields. CED is concerned about the economic development potential of these sites and FAIR is interested in the liability potential cities face when trying to make these improvements.

The committee also discussed environmental justice, nuclear, and hazardous materials, NLC's 1995 Action Agenda, and the governance principles adopted by the NLC Board last March.

While in San Jose, committee members toured the San Jose Arena to learn about the energy efficiency features that have been installed. EENR members also visited the city's wastewater treatment facility, a flood control project, and regional recycling centers.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities' Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Steering Committee
Author:Anderson, Sharon D.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 29, 1995
Words:865
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