NCEL Founder Was Lifelong Environmental Advocate


Leon Billings at NCEL’s 2016 National Issues Forum

Few are able to claim a legacy quite as impactful as that of the Honorable Leon Billings. Leon established a name for himself as a staffer for U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie in the 1950s and 60’s, and would go on to be the chief U.S. Senate staffer responsible for writing the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

Following many years of staffing on the Hill and partial retirement, Leon ran for a seat in the General Assembly of Maryland that had been held by his late wife. Leon was shocked upon taking office how few staff he was afforded as a State Delegate, and his frustration only grew the more he learned about the lack of resources available to other state legislatures across the country.

Leon’s problem-solving nature was on full display at the 1995 meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators, where he and a bipartisan group of legislators were troubled by the national organizing being conducted by polluter and industry groups to roll back environmental regulations. Leon envisioned a similar, nonpartisan network that would coordinate state legislators across the country on pro-environment efforts, share best practices, and augment legislators’ capacity in the form of remote environmental staff.

Leon with current Maryland Delegates Carr, Stein, and Fraser-Hidalgo

In 1996, Leon established an informal network of state legislators from across the country to coordinate their environmental efforts. In 1999, the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators was formalized as a project of the Edmund S. Muskie Foundation, and would become an independent 501(c)(3) organization in 2007. Leon played an active role in the growth and development of the organization for 20 years. During that time, NCEL has been instrumental in enacting the Great Lakes Compact, over 30 states adopting California’s Clean Car standard, pushing for state and federal toxics regulation reform, and a wave of state bills banning microbeads that pushed Congress to act on the issue in late 2015.

Although Leon passed suddenly in November 2016, his legacy is carried on by his wife, three children, and the organization he created.  NCEL staff are committed to ensuring that Leon’s vision of service and commitment to state legislators will remain the core of the organization’s work, and that his passion for clean air and water and healthy environments will always be at the heart of our work.

An obituary in the Washington Post about Leon’s life is available here.