Reilly an Activist Who Seeks Consensus

Times Staff Writer

William K. Reilly is a staunch environmentalist who has been able to forge agreements with business leaders, an activist who has made a career of seeking consensus instead of confrontation, friends and colleagues say.

The man chosen by President-elect George Bush to head the Environmental Protection Agency is president of the World Wildlife Fund and has been president of the Conservation Foundation since 1973. The two groups joined in a formal affiliation in 1985 and have more than 600,000 members.

Reilly, 48, has been active in a host of issues, ranging from acid rain and wetlands protection to tropical rain forests and wildlife preservation. Yet he has advanced these interests in a low-key, behind-the-scenes manner that distinguishes him from other, more hard-line conservation leaders.

Spokesman for several environmental groups hailed Reilly’s appointment Thursday, suggesting that the choice of a conservation activist to head EPA is a “reassuring signal” that Bush is serious about tackling environmental issues, as he promised during the campaign.


“It’s a refreshing change, an indication that the whole ballgame will be different than it was under the Reagan Administration,” said Fred Krupp, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Bill has been an environmental leader for two decades. He made his name forging a compromise between business leaders and environmentalists, and this will be very important for him at EPA.”

Business leaders were also pleased by the choice of Reilly, a cultured, multilingual man with a Harvard law degree and a planning degree from Columbia. Willard Chamberlain, a senior vice president of Arco in Los Angeles, recalled that he recently worked with Reilly on a task force on the wetlands issue and found him to be an even-keeled, intelligent individual.

“I was very impressed with his balance, his skill at developing a consensus,” Chamberlain said. “He’s had a lifelong commitment to preserving the environment, but he doesn’t pursue a confrontational approach to resolving issues.”

Provoked Some Criticism


Those qualities have provoked some criticism, however. Ken Maize, a spokesman for the environmental organization Friends of the Earth, said that Reilly is “an OK appointment” but noted that some conservationists have been disappointed by the “compromise” approach adopted by his organizations.

“He (Reilly) is not a brother; he’s a friend,” Maize said. “We’ve had some differences with him, but they are not fundamental. It’s more of a stylistic thing.”

Others cautioned that Reilly’s background is more in conservation issues than the tough enforcement questions that will confront him at EPA, such as the need for stronger clean air regulations.

In that sense, “we still have to wait and see what kind of director he will be,” said Dick Ayres of the National Resources Defense Council.


Reilly, married and the father of two daughters, has written and lectured extensively on the need for environmental protection and the need for growth, and he is expected to bring a healthy respect for both to his new post.

Before leading the two environmental groups, he was executive director of the Task Force on Land Use and Urban Growth, a bipartisan group, and he has played a leading role in urging business leaders and conservationists to seek a middle ground on divisive growth issues.

Most recently, he helped sponsor the National Wetlands Policy Forum, a bipartisan group that has come up with more than 100 recommendations supported by business and conservation groups on how to preserve these environmentally sensitive areas across the nation.

He is no stranger to the Washington scene, having served from 1970 to 1972 as a member of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, specializing in issues such as coastal zone management and mineral leasing. Earlier, he practiced law in Chicago and served as a captain in the Army in 1966-67.