William Tayloe Murphy, Jr., a leading figure in Virginia’s environmental protection efforts who spearheaded the passage of many historic environmental laws, died on September 15. He was 88 years old.
Murphy – widely known simply as Tayloe – was a lawyer who represented a district in his native Northern Neck from 1982 to 2000, during which time he worked on nearly every major environmental law that was passed.
Among the laws he championed were the Water Quality Improvement Act, which required that 10% of any state surplus be used for the benefit of water quality; the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, which increased oversight of land use decisions in areas near the bay; and restrictions on oil drilling in the bay.
Murphy then served as Secretary of Natural Resources in Gov. Mark Warner’s administration, where he initiated action to require nutrient discharge limits to be incorporated into wastewater permits and worked to increase significantly. spending on drinking water programs.
“Virginia has lost a silent giant to Tayloe Murphy,” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said. “Our waters are cleaner today thanks to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, the Water Quality Improvement Fund and all [of] his work in the legislature and as secretary of natural resources.
For Murphy, Bay’s problems were close to home. He lived on a farm overlooking the Potomac River and soon after being elected to the General Assembly he was appointed a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, an advisory committee made up of lawmakers from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
While on the commission, he was involved in issues such as the management of striped bass in the 1980s and blue crabs in the 1990s. He successfully led the commission’s efforts to enact a ban on phosphate detergents in Virginia.
Murphy had a soft voice, known to wear bow ties and frequently described as a quintessential Southern gentleman. He promoted civility among his colleagues and colleagues, denounced the rise of partisanship and stressed the importance of trying to listen to opponents on issues.
“He always said in a negotiation that you can go a lot further with sweet than with acid,” said Ann Swanson, executive director of the Bay Commission. “He would often say how important it is to be nice because it’s very difficult for your enemy to confront you if you’ve been nice.”
It produced results. Murphy helped expand the regulation of large poultry farms and pass a law restricting the use of toxic chemicals in paints from boats that had contaminated parts of the James River. His work is seen as the foundation of the state’s water and land protection efforts.
“Although the embodiment of the Gentleman of Virginia, Tayloe was not child’s play,” said Roy Hoagland, former vice president of environmental protection and restoration at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “A passionate lawyer and astute negotiator, Tayloe could stand up to the most vocal opponents. Humble, intelligent, gracious, gentle, kind … he brought out the best in his friends and enemies. There will never be another like him. ”
Murphy was known both for his passion and in-depth knowledge of the issues he worked on and for his lengthy descriptions of those issues to others. A newspaper article described him as “rarely good for a sound clip”. But he used this to his advantage.
During Murphy’s presentation at an awards ceremony in 2018, Joseph Maroon, who served as director of the State Department of Conservation and Recreation under Murphy in the Warner administration, recalled that the governor had once said, “Tayloe would come and bombard me with details that I wasn’t familiar with, and I would say OK, go ahead and do it.”
Everything he stood for did not lead to success. As concerns grew in the 1990s about the adverse effects of growth and development on the bay’s water quality, he spent five years drafting legislation that would increase slate’s role in management. growth, only to see it quickly killed.
But his desire to tackle difficult problems was motivated by a guiding principle – the doctrine of public trust at common law, according to which the underwater lands, the water above them and the living resources they contain are held by the state in trust for the benefit of everyone.
“The state is the custodian of these resources and has a fiduciary responsibility to protect them from degradation,” he once said. “Allowing special interest groups to damage our water resources – whether they are real estate developers, a wastewater treatment plant or any other contributor to pollution – is to deny the right.” to a resource peculiar to others who should be protected. When elected officials and states finally take their stewardship role seriously, the Bay will prosper again. “
Murphy has also served on numerous boards of directors, including those of Preservation Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the Northern Neck Historical Society.
He is survived by one daughter, Anne Carter Braxton Murphy Brumley, and four grandchildren. Hélène, his wife of 63 years, died in 2019.