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Washington, D.C. -- Senator Mike Enzi introduced a bill Wednesday that would encourage people to work together for a cleaner environment.

"A clean environment is important to everyone. It's critical that we as lawmakers give people the means and motivation to stop pollution," said Enzi. "My bill allows states to use their creative environmental cleanup ideas."

He said his bill, State Environmental Audit Protection Act (S.1332), adds to the environmental protection gains made over the last two decades. More than 20 states, including Wyoming, have enacted legislation that encourages businesses to seek out and correct situations that harm the environment. Twenty more states have such legislation in the works. These laws are geared toward harnessing the power of the profit motive for the good of the environment. But states have met with a frowning federal agency that has threatened to take away their right of "primacy" to enforce environmental law.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has thrown cold water on initiatives that help people clean up their states. The State Environmental Initiative Protection Act would allow these initiatives to take effect," said Enzi.

Here's how it works.

Enzi's bill would prohibit a federal agency from taking away a state's power to enforce federal laws on the basis of a state having enacted its own "Environmental Incentives" law. The EPA has threatened to take away Wyoming's and other states' power to enforce the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Solid Waste Disposal Act and others if the states use their "incentive" laws.

Enzi said it is vital that people understand that these "incentive" laws do not replace current environmental enforcement efforts. The EPA and state regulatory agencies' power to punish a polluter under strict regulations and assess fines is still there. What's the change then? Wyoming's incentive law, if it were allowed by the EPA to work, would allow a company to identify its own pollution problem and clean it up in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Quality. If the waste is removed and environment restored properly, states can choose to forego punishment. If the DEQ or EPA identify the problem, all enforcement measures will apply. Enzi's legislation also contains a provision which would not allow a company to use a state's "incentive" law to avoid punishment for a problem that existed before the law went into effect or for a problem that has continuing adverse effects on public health or the environment.

Enzi said "incentive" laws are already working in other areas. Both the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, signed by President Clinton, and the Federal Aviation Administration offer self-evaluation incentives. A new approach

Enzi said his legislation starts at the root of the problem, a unique approach contrary to other proposals now before Congress.

"The State Environmental Initiative Act avoids a federal mandate or top-down legislation. It allows businesses and states to more wisely and effectively solve their own problems without forcing states without environmental incentive legislation to adhere to a federal statute," he said. "My bill doesn't take a one size fits all tact. What is good for Alaska may not suit Arkansas."

Another provision unique to Enzi's bill is wording that provides special compliance help for small businesses from Small Business Development Centers.

Broad support

Enzi doesn't see protecting and preserving the environment as a partisan issue. He is actively seeking support from both sides of the aisle.

"Contrary to popular belief, I'm convinced we can find reasonable ways to make where we live safer, cleaner and healthier," said Enzi. "Most people recognize the importance of getting as many people working on environmental cleanup as possible."

Enzi testified on the merits of his bill before the Environmental and Public works committee Thursday.