Fairfax Challenger Straddles The Environmental Line

Gary H. Baise says more attention needs to be paid to building additional roads in Fairfax County.
Gary H. Baise says more attention needs to be paid to building additional roads in Fairfax County. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Gary H. Baise calls himself "one of the original environmentalists," a reference to his role in the creation of the EPA and the 700-acre corn and soybean farm he still owns in his native southern Illinois.

"If I don't protect the land, my livelihood washes away," said Baise, 66, a Washington lawyer and Republican candidate who is challenging incumbent Gerald E. Connolly (D) for chairmanship of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in the Nov. 6 election.

Baise served as chief of staff to the Environmental Protection Agency's founding administrator, William D. Ruckelshaus, in the early 1970s. He is on the board of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, a nonprofit group that tries to forge partnerships between business and government. He is a member of a federal task force looking at ways to reduce agricultural air pollution. Instead of driving from his Falls Church home, he takes the Metro to the 14th Street NW offices of his firm, Kilpatrick Stockton.

Yet for most of the past 30 years, when a corporation, a local government, a developer or a farmer has landed in a dispute with environmental regulators, Baise is often whom they have called.

He has built a lucrative career as a courtroom advocate for cities whose sewage systems have fouled rivers, wheat and grass farmers seeking to burn their stubble and chemical companies vouching for the safety of their products.

In the early 1980s, Baise represented the state of New York in its effort to build a six-lane underground highway along the West Side of Manhattan.

A federal judge concluded in 1985 that the project, known as Westway, would have destroyed vital fish habitats in the Hudson River. U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Griesa said in his decision that state officials gave misleading testimony on the potential environmental impact of the $5 billion project.

Baise had earlier drafted a 16-page memo for Westway arguing that land-filling of the Hudson would do no harm because the region was nearly devoid of aquatic life -- despite updated data showing striped bass habitats.

Griesa had said in an earlier opinion that state and federal highway officials acted in "willful derogation" of the law by failing to come forward with the new habitat studies. He also excoriated Baise and his law firm at the time, Beveridge and Diamond, for setting forth "a statement of facts which was so divorced from the truth."

"He was dead wrong," Baise said during an interview last week about his legal career. He described Griesa as "an attorney who came out of a securities law practice" who had little understanding of environmental matters. He was merely advising his clients on how to present their case most effectively. "We were trying to figure out how to best present the story."

The debate over Westway ended more than 25 years ago, and although Baise doesn't mention the project to Fairfax audiences, it resonates in his campaign message. New York, he said, would be better off had the highway been built -- just as Fairfax would benefit from more roads to alleviate congestion.

Baise asserts that Connolly's focus on mass transit -- principally the Metro extension to Dulles International Airport -- has diverted critical attention and resources from that priority.

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