EPA: Twenty Years Young

by William K. Reilly
[EPA speech - December 3, 1990]

Twentieth Anniversaries don't come around all that often; and I'm very pleased that I could be here for this one.

Let me thank Ann Boren and her staff, and Charlie Grizzle and his folks, and the communications office, the steering committee--everyone who contributed to making this such a memorable event.

You have already heard some very complimentary messages from the National Governors' Association and the U.N. Environment Programme.

And now I have the distinct pleasure of sharing with you two additional messages we have just received.

The first is from President Richard Nixon, who signed the Executive Order creating EPA on December 2, 1970:

I am especially pleased to send greetings to all those who have gathered today to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency. Having been "present at the creation," it is particularly gratifying to know that the EPA stands today at the forefront of our national fight for the environment.

When I proposed the creation of EPA in 1970, I said, "The Congress, the Administration, and the public all share a profound commitment to the rescue of our natural environment and the preservation of the Earth as a place both habitable by and hospitable to man." These words are as true today as they were twenty years ago--only today we are closer to our goal. Under the outstanding leadership of Director Reilly, the EPA is ready to move forward into the next century, leading the effort to preserve and protect our natural heritage in this great and beautiful land."

And the second message is from President Bush; it's an excerpt from the article he wrote for our Anniversary issue of the EPA Journal:

"I hope that in 20 or 30 years from now, we'll be able to look back on EPA's 20th birthday and conclude that it was around 1990 when the Agency, and the country, began to chart a new course: when we began to exercise foresight in a truly meaningful way. The 1990s must be the decade when we focus our attention on finding the most cost-effective ways to prevent pollution, to reduce risks to human health and the environment, and to achieve environmentally sound, sustainable economic growth.

"It can be a new era of environmental stewardship, creating a safer, cleaner, more productive world for ourselves and our children. I know EPA will be there to help bring us into that new era, adding another proud chapter to its already proud history."

EPA's stature today has never been greater. Calls for our advice and help from other countries have never been more pressing. I couldn't agree more with the sentiments expressed by others today; and now it's my turn to tell all of you how much I respect and appreciate the fine work that you have done, that you are doing, to make a difference in the environment.

I think it's very impressive that of the five thousand people from five federal organizations who came together to create EPA 20 years ago, more than twelve hundred are still with us at headquarters and in the regions--exemplifying the dedication and staying power of all those who have worked at EPA over the years.

And we have never had a more diverse or promising new group of employees than the class of 1990.

Incidentally, as Marlin Fitzwater noted in our video, EPA's regional offices, with their strong operating role, are a very special strength of this Agency. I wish all of you from around the country, all 17,000 in the regional and field offices and the labs, could be together today. Imagine an all-hands meeting 17,000 strong!

Total personnel resources at EPA have grown 13 percent during my time here, with most of the new people going to the regions. I have visited all of our regional offices and many other offices and labs around the country, and I know full well the sense of purpose and the hard work you find throughout this Agency.

Well, during the past two decades, EPA, in partnership with many other Americans, has made extraordinary progress in protecting and cleaning up the environment. In fact, I do not believe there has been another comparable success story in the realm of public policy during this period.

Allow ourselves a moment of parochial self-congratulation. Where in American public policy has there been a success to rival the nation's progress in reducing pollution? Housing and homelessness? Poverty? Education? Agriculture? Energy?

We need to be self-critical and open to change. But we shouldn't forget, or allow the nation to overlook, what has been achieved. We have not yet fully achieved the environmental goals the nation has adopted, but we have made very large advances. And we made those very dramatic reductions in pollution over a period when the nation was adding 80 million more cars and a 70 percent increase in its gross national product!

So we've made very great progress, and we've put out a lot of fires. Many more won't break out in the first place because this Agency, staffed by skilled and committed people, has been so vigorous, so effective at the business of protecting public health and the environment.

We can take a great deal of pride in these accomplishments--in the local, state, and private efforts we have helped to foster, in the innovation we have shown in developing new approaches to difficult problems, in the quality, dedication, and diversity of our colleagues. And it's getting better and better.

All this we have done while being pressed constantly to do more, with financial resources that have never kept pace with the needs or demands.

EPA's past successes, by the way, can help to inform our work today and in the future; and to ensure that we have the full benefit of what has gone before us, I'm pleased to announce today that we will be creating a permanent Agency historical program in Charlie Grizzle's shop.

Now, during our 20th Anniversary celebration, I want to thank all of you here today for contributing so much to our success--for helping to lay the groundwork for what promises to be an even more exciting future. The challenges we face are no less daunting, and certainly no less complex, than those faced by the people who launched EPA on its critically important mission two decades ago.

What lies ahead for us?

In the broadest sense I think we are challenged by three great, overriding needs.

The first is to stabilize and protect the life support systems of the planet itself. EPA has been the leading agency developing the international policy for protecting upper atmospheric ozone, and in testing substitutes for CFCs, and in regulating the phaseout of CFCs. We will continue to define our mission in global dimensions.

The second great need is to restore and protect the natural systems of the United States--the wetlands and groundwater, the bays and sounds and lakes, the soils and fish, the biotic platform on which all activity, including economic activity, depends. Just as in the past, our successes in this effort will be a beacon to the whole world, which is so desperately in need of examples of success.

The third great challenge is to help to usher in a new era of integration that I believe is both necessary and also possible--perhaps for the first time in modern American history: integration between the nation's economic goals and its environmental aspirations.

EPA can foster a long-needed reconciliation in accommodating these vital interests, through the policies we advocate, the laws and regulations we craft, and the attitude we bring to industry and to growth. We have it in our power to promote new technologies, innovations in manufacturing and in cleanup and in control of pests. We can help harness powerful market forces and get more of the resources of private enterprise devoted to solving problems rather than to wining lawsuits.

How will we do these things? How will we rise to these three great challenges?

First, we will strengthen our capabilities in science and enforcement and education. The quality of our analysis, the power of our ideas, the credibility, consistency and public support we enjoy, all these will rest upon the success of our efforts in science, enforcement and education. We have a bully pulpit; we need good ammunition, and we'll use it.

From these priorities we will achieve an integrity of total operation that can strengthen everything we do.

Second, we will set risk-based priorities through effective strategic planning, targeting our limited resources to achieve the greatest possible reduction of risk, and then getting the maximum payoff through total quality management.

We will put this to a critical test when we try to get huge reductions in total emissions of toxics, through voluntary negotiations. I believe the public support we enjoy, and the readiness of industry to bring toxics down, create a favorable moment for making huge inroads against toxics, going well beyond what the laws require. We shall see soon whether I am correct in this, and whether the Agency can achieve something very significant without the backup of the usual tools of legal compulsion.

A third and related focus will be prevention of pollution, and furtherance of policies to minimize waste, and to recycle it. Vital to these efforts will be reliable delivery of information, transfer of technologies, and labeling of products.

A fourth and critical means of achieving our goals is to look for ways to ensure that our policies are genuinely cost-effective. We are not so rich we can afford to direct the nation's resources to measures with inconsequential environmental benefits. The new Clean Air Act offers several examples of ways to work with, rather than against, the free market.

Now this is a difficult concept for EPA and for environmentalists to put into practice. So much of our work has been made necessary by markets that failed to value nature and the environment.

But public concern for the environment, and the moral and legal authority of this Agency, give us at this time the opportunity to craft a new generation of policies, that reward comprehensive improvements, that go beyond incremental efforts, that provide incentives for dramatic progress, that help the good guys save and even make money.

In all that we do, we need to remember to listen to the country, to be open to the ideas of the public, the states and counties and cities and towns upon whom the success of most of efforts ultimately depend. And I would also emphasize the need to listen to industry, whose leaders by and large acknowledge and share the nation's environmental goals, and who often have a better, more intimate grasp of how to achieve them, than we do.

Need I add that the organized environmental community has never been larger, richer, more professionally staffed, or more creative in developing new ideas? We need them.

EPA has always worked hard; now we want to work smarter; we need to get even more out of the people and resources available for environmental protection. Our plate is full to overflowing; by ourselves, we could never be expected to address satisfactorily all of the problems clamoring for our attention.

We have to find creative new ways to enhance our productivity without burning ourselves out. Hank Habicht [EPA Deputy Administrator] and I are convinced that the way to do that is through quality management. Our goal is to make the pursuit of quality--total quality--a fundamental part of EPA's culture.

An important element of this pursuit is developing new EPA managers, and providing training and career opportunities for all our people at all levels. To meet the environmental challenges of the 1990s, we need managers who have the ability to make the most productive use of the skills and talents available to us; managers who see their jobs not merely as implementing specific parts of certain laws, important as this is, but who see their role as helping achieve real environmental results across all media, as cost-effectively as possible.

Technical competence alone is not enough; our managers need to be facilitators, mediators, and planners. They must have a vision for the future, and relate to their colleagues and to the regulated community with dignity, respect, and compassion.

And our clerical and secretarial staff and all the other people in the EPA family, in headquarters and in the regions, all of you who make a difference in so many ways--you, too, deserve the opportunity to grow and to contribute broadly to our vital mission.

As daunting as our new challenges are, I know that you can rise to the occasion. All of you know, I think, that you are helping to make this Agency the place to be for anyone who wants to make a difference on the environment.

Let me close on a personal note. I feel a deep kinship with all of you at EPA. As a conservationist in the private sector, before I came here, I watched EPA grow steadily in expertise and influence. I did so as a friend and supporter, applauding the victories, deploring the setbacks.

Like many environmentalists, I'm fairly adept at advocating change. But EPA's job is to envision and then implement change; and I now know just how difficult that job can be.

Yet I've never questioned : Ours is a job that must be done, if we, this generation and our children and generations to come, are to enjoy a future worthy of the name.

That's why I am at EPA. That's why you are at EPA. Together, let's make the next 20 years even more productive, more successful, more rewarding than the past 20!

Thank you. And Happy Birthday, EPA!

Remarks at EPA Anniversary and Awards Program, Washington, D.C. - December 3, 1990