WASHINGTON -- The family of the late Sen. H. John Heinz III has donated $20 million to establish a research center in his name where experts from universities, industry, government and advocacy groups will join to seek firmer ground for environmental policies in science and economics.
The sponsors said the gift was one of the largest single philanthropic grants ever offered in environmental circles.
They said the new center, the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, would offer nonpartisan, innovative and credible ideas in a field constantly riven by politics, where government policies are often masterminded by muddling through.
Already, the center has won support -- and drawn members of its fledgling board of directors -- from quarters including the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy, the Aluminum Company of America and Enron Corp., and four major universities: Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Princeton and Stanford.
Its president is William Merrell Jr., an oceanographer and former vice chancellor of the Texas A&M; University System. The professional staff, working in Washington, is expected to grow to about a dozen this year, with a budget of $1.7 million, he said.
But the real strength of the organization, its founders said, will be drawn from companies, schools, environmental groups and the government, whose experts will assemble to work on knotty, emerging problems that the center believes will move to the forefront of the policy agenda in two to five years.
The founders said they are keenly aware of the intensely political nature of environmental decision making and that the center would remain independent, even as it reached out to all sectors of the environmental debate.
Teresa Heinz, widow of Mr. Heinz and head of the Heinz Family Philanthropies, said she believes the intense drive by Republicans in the 104th Congress to radically reshape environmental policies would wane and a more centrist approach would emerge.
"When that happens, there have got to be some well-thought-out alternatives," she said.
Mr. Heinz, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania who died in a plane crash in 1991, first sought in the 1980s to develop a bipartisan effort to harness market forces for environmental protection, an idea he pursued along with Sen. Tim Wirth, a Democrat who now is the assistant secretary of state for global affairs, the top environmental post at the State Department.
Mrs. Heinz, who this year married Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is an active environmentalist and vice chairwoman of the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group that has made a mark developing approaches, like the trading on financial markets of pollution permits, that use financial incentives to lower the costs of protecting the environment.
Mrs. Heinz controls a family fortune worth several hundred million dollars, originally derived from the Heinz food company.
The donation to establish the Heinz Center comes from the Vira I. Heinz Endowment, one of the Pittsburgh-based philanthropies, with combined assets of about $1 billion, associated with the family.
The board of the Heinz Center includes Mrs. Heinz; Fred Krupp, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund in New York; Kenneth Lay, chairman of Enron Corp., an energy company; Simon Levin, a biologist and director of the Princeton Environmental Institute at Princeton University; Robert Mehrabian, president of Carnegie Mellon; Paul O'Neill, chairman of the Aluminum Company of America and John Sawhill, president of the Nature Conservancy.