Former U.S. Rep. Norman F. Lent, an 11-term New York Republican who became an influential voice on environmental legislation, died June 11 at his home in Arlington. He was 81.
He had cancer, said his wife, Barbara Morris-Lent.
Rep. Lent never lost an election in 30 years in public office — first as a New York state senator in the 1960s and later in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he represented a swath of Long Island from 1970 to 1992.
By the time of his retirement, Rep. Lent had become one of the most senior Republicans in the House. Much of his clout derived from his seat as the ranking minority member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees legislations on a wide range of matters including the environment, cable television and the oil industry.
Rep. Lent spent his entire career in a House that was under Democratic control. He became a master of bipartisan compromise and a “valued ally or respected adversary” of the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), according to the Almanac of American Politics.
Working in close collaboration, Rep. Lent and Dingell pushed through the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 — a sweeping piece of legislation that remains the last major update to the original Clean Air Act signed by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970. The amendments included provisions to curb emissions, acid rain and smog that had become increasingly threatening to American cities.
Rep. Lent was cited as a key player behind a compromise on reformulated gas, a smog-reducing blend of gasoline that was mandated in certain cities by the 1990 legislation.
Once the ranking minority member of the now-defunct Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, Rep. Lent helped enact a ban on oil dumping in the Long Island Sound and as well as legislation that limited foreign fishing within 200 miles of the shore. He also helped win enactment in 1988 of a law that banned the dumping of municipal sewage in oceans.
In the 1980s, Rep. Lent drew scrutiny stemming from his wife’s job as director of government relations for the Nynex Corp., a regional telephone company in New York and New England. As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Lent voted on legislation that regulated the telecommunications industry following the breakup of AT&T.
Rep. Lent referred the matter to the House ethics committee, which in turn left the question up to Rep. Lent’s judgment. He called the issue a “tempest in a teapot,” defended his wife’s right to pursue her career and continued full participation on the committee.
Rep. Lent did not seek reelection in 1992, citing redistricting as well as the “sense of paralysis and gridlock” in Washington, according to the New York Times.
After leaving Congress, he formed a government relations and lobbying firm, Lent and Scrivner, in Washington. The firm’s clients included telecommunications and oil and gas companies, among other institutions. Rep. Lent retired in 2006 and the firm dissolved two years later.
Norman Frederick Lent Jr. was born March 23, 1931, in Oceanside, N.Y.
He received a bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University on Long Island in 1952. After Navy service during the Korean War — he was a code breaker stationed in California — Rep. Lent received a law degree from Cornell University in 1957. Through the late 1980s, he maintained a private legal practice on Long Island.
In 1970, he won a seat in the House by defeating the incumbent, Allard K. Lowenstein, a liberal Democrat and prominent critic of the Vietnam War. Rep. Lent was a vice chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee from 1972 until 1986.
His first marriage, to Nancy Budlong, ended in divorce. Their son Thomas B. Lent died in 2000.
Survivors include his wife of 31 years, Barbara Morris-Lent of Arlington; two children from his first marriage, Norman F. Lent III of Alexandria and Barbara Lent Roberts of Houston; a half-brother; and five grandchildren.