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The Conservation Foundation’s 2001 Earth Day Benefit Dinner-Naperville, Illinois

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
The Conservation Foundation’s
2001 Earth Day Benefit Dinner
Naperville, Illinois

April 30, 2001

Thank you, Bob (Lane), for that introduction. I also want to thank you for your company’s commitment to environmentally sound practices. I had a chance to look over John Deere’s Environment, Health and Safety Annual Review for last year and I was impressed by your efforts.

We’re here tonight to celebrate Earth Day, but I want to take a moment to celebrate the work of this organization. I understand that since your founding in 1972, the Conservation Foundation has permanently preserved more than 2,000 acres of open space in DuPage, Kane, Kendall, and Will Counties.

This is a remarkable accomplishment as well as a shining example of the ability of interested, dedicated, public-spirited citizens to make an enormous difference for the health of our environment. I applaud your commitment to conservation.

It’s hard to believe that 31 years have passed since that first Earth Day, an event one writer has described as, “one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy.” That first Earth Day launched an unprecedented national movement to correct decades of environmental degradation, destruction, and damage.

Never before in American history had such an outpouring of popular support for a single idea – that the time had come for America to “pay its debt to the past by reclaiming the purity of its air, its waters and our living environment,” as President Nixon put it at the time – resulted in such a quick response by government to such a clearly identified goal.

Before 1970 was out, the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act were signed into law, the EPA and the President’s Council on Environmental Quality were established, and hundreds of thousands of acres of new wilderness areas were permanently protected.

In the 31 years since the first Earth Day, our environment has become much healthier. America has made a down payment – and more – on the debt we owed for decades of careless stewardship.

At the EPA, our mission is the same as it was when we were founded in 1970, to preserve and protect the environment and the public health. But while our mission is the same, it’s time for the way we carry out that mission to change. It’s time for a new approach.
President Bush has made clear what he believes the role of the federal government in this new approach should be. Washington should use its authority to set high standards – tough standards – for environmental protection. We should use strong science and solid analysis to set standards that will result in cleaner air, purer water, and better protected land.

But then, once those standards are set, Washington must relax its grip over the ways in which those standards are met. We need to acknowledge that not all wisdom resides in Washington, D.C. We need to do more to encourage the development of new methods and technologies to meet the tough standards we set.

State and local governments, for example, are in the forefront of some of the most creative, innovative, and effective efforts to improve the condition of the environment in their local communities.

The restoration of brownfields in America’s communities is a prime example of this. The states have really taken the lead in rehabilitating these neighborhood eyesores into community assets. The federal government is only just catching up, and, in some cases, has even been slowing things up.

During the campaign last year, President Bush called for federal legislation that would remove federal roadblocks to brownfields redevelopment and would provide state and local governments with more tools and resources to help them meet the brownfields challenge in ways that made sense in their communities.

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed a landmark bill that reflects the President’s goals for brownfields reform. I am hopeful that the House will soon move similar legislation, so that the President can sign comprehensive brownfields legislation this year.

Responsible American business leaders are also helping forge a new path to environmental progress. It’s truly amazing what American companies can accomplish for environmental protection when they know what’s expected of them

I found a great example of this just today when I was looking over that John Deere report I mentioned a few minutes ago. In response to a new EPA standard on emissions from two-cycle engines – the ones found on such tools as gas-powered weed-whackers – Deere has developed a new two-cycle engine technology. This new technology will reduce emissions by as much as 70 percent – exceeding EPA’s new standards. It’s this sort of commitment that earned Deere EPA’s Clean Air Excellence Award

Of course, organized environmental groups, already important contributors to environmental progress, have become increasingly effective. Today, they not only advocate sound environmental policy, they also help create sound environmental practices in partnership with government, business, and individuals.

Clearly, there’s no better example of this than the Conservation Foundation. You have never been content to just sit on the sidelines and tell others what needs to be done; you’ve gone and done it. You’ve raised money to protect open space and helped pass bond acts to raise public money for the same purpose. You’ve sponsored educational forums to promote wise environmental practices, such as this year’s Sustainability Series. And you’ve forged productive partnerships among business, environmentalists, and government to achieve these goals.

And individuals, today more than ever before, are making a real contribution. As I have traveled across America, I have met numerous environmental heros, individual citizens who are making a real difference in their neighborhoods and communities.

Just last week, I had the honor to join with President Bush to honor this year’s national Presidential Environmental Youth Award winners. I wish you could have met these kids. Their energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment really gives one great confidence in America’s future.

Two of the award winners are from Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire over in Lake County. These two students were juniors in 1997 when their school disbanded its paper recycling program. They were concerned about the effects of this decision on the environment and they did something about it. Today their school not only uses recycled paper, it is a model of how minor changes in existing operations can provide major environmental benefits.

All of this activity is taking place because Americans are committed to the protection of our environment, and in typical American spirit, they want to do their part.

Of course, this doesn’t mean Washington can diminish its efforts to protect the environment. And if you look at the first one hundred days of the Bush Administration, you can see that the President believes the federal government has an important role to play. I believe the record shows that this Administration is off to a strong start. Let me share with you several of the highlights.

The President has acted to make the air cleaner by requiring diesel buses and trucks to cleanup their emissions and use cleaner burning fuel. This will literally save lives – more than 8,300 a year. It will also help hundreds of thousands of kids with asthma breathe easier.

The President has moved to protect America’s families from exposure to lead by significantly increasing the reporting requirements of companies that use lead in their business. This should result in decreases in the use of lead in various industrial applications, further safeguarding our children from the dangerous effects of lead poisoning.

The President has extended greater protection to America’s precious wetlands by more closely regulating construction activities in those fragile yet indispensable areas. This will ensure that America preserves it wetlands, areas that are so important to a healthy environment.

Now, I know some of you are wondering, “That’s all good, but what about arsenic, what about global climate change?” I want to take just a few moments to clarify exactly what the Administration is doing in these areas.

First regarding arsenic, although you’ve heard that we killed a proposal to lower the acceptable limit of arsenic in drinking water, that’s simply not the case. What we did do was ask for some additional study of the proposed new arsenic standard. I wanted to be sure that it protected public health and could be successfully implemented, especially by those small water companies in the Southwest, where arsenic is a prevalent, naturally occurring problem.

To perform this analysis, I have asked the National Academy of Sciences to undertake an expedited review of a range of 3 to 20 parts per billion (ppb)of arsenic for the new drinking water standard. I have also asked the National Drinking Water Advisory Council to review the economic issues associated with a new standard.

I want to make clear that the Bush Administration is going to increase the protection of public health by lowering the acceptable limits of arsenic in drinking water from the current level of 50 parts per billion. In addition, the new standard will be in place in sufficient time to meet the 2006 implementation date set in the original proposal.

With respect to global climate change, I want to make sure everyone here understands that the President knows that global climate change is a serious matter that deserves the attention of the United States government. He is fully committed to reducing the growth in greenhouse gas emissions through the promotion of market-based incentives, the development of new technologies, and the transfer of technology from the developed world to the developing countries.

To those who believe such an approach unworkable or unrealistic, the most recent data shows that the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions has actually begun to decline, even during a time of enormous economic growth. This reduction has been accomplished because government and business have joined hands to effect these reductions. That’s another indication of the success partnerships can achieve.

Last week at the White House I heard the President tell those young award winners I mentioned a few moments ago that every day should be Earth Day, and that’s so true. We each have a responsibility to be good stewards of our environment. We each have an obligation to leave our air cleaner, our water purer, and our land better protected than it was. And we each have the duty to make every day Earth Day, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of our communities, our states, our nation, and the world.

Working as partners, I know we will be able to meet our responsibilities to the environment as “riders on the Earth together.”

Thank you.