The environment may not be the trendiest or best-supported issue in town these days, but all of the 150 or so people at the Urban Environment Conference's party last night had a very nice time anyway, thank you.
"Considering at least 10 percent of the people in here tonight don't have jobs right now, this is pretty lively indeed," said a woman from the Isaac Walton League, one of many environmental groups represented.
Environmentally speaking, the UEC, founded in 1971 by the late Sen. Philip Hart from Michigan, couldn't have picked a nicer spot for a party. The Social Hall at the American Institute of Architects, spacious and sleek, was filled with tantalizing whispers and soft asides. "I'm giving a party next week," said one woman to a bearded man, "to celebrate surviving Ronald Reagan's first hundred days."
As with so many Washington gatherings, this one had a dual purpose: to raise money for the UEC, a loose federation of environmental, labor and minority groups, and to bestow the Philip Hart Award on three individuals deemed outstanding protectors of the "urban and working environment."
And the winners were: Eula Bingham, former assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, for her energetic efforts there; Leon Billings, who as a Senate aide to Edmund Muskie drafted the Clean Air and Clean Water acts; and Clyde Foster, the mayor of Triana, Ala. (pop. 600).
Foster is in the middle of a legal battle with Olin Chemical Co., which allegedly dumped DDT that contaminated the Triana water supply.
Dressed in a double-breasted navy blazer, Foster, a heavy-set black man delivered a short but vivid acceptance speech.
"We have the highest levels of DDT and PCB in our blood ever recorded," he said emotionally. "Our kids are not growing to normal height. We have more cancer than normal, rarer cancers, like cancer of the liver and the spleen."
Singer Holly Near provided the entertainment. She introduced herself as having been "active in developing a conscientious culture for the last five years."
Near was accompanied by a woman who signed the songs for the deaf. "I brought her even though I'm aware there won't be any deaf people here, because this event wasn't publicized to the deaf community," Near scolded.
Eula Bingham, who earned national recognition for her work at OSHA, gave an acceptance speech that was both rueful and optimistic. "I was at a bar association meeting in Florida the other day," she said. "There was an OSHA section, and one young man stood up and said, 'The wicked witch is dead!' Well, I'm here to tell you that the wicked witch is not dead. She's merely repairing her broom -- and passing out a lot more brooms to her students."