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White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation, St. Louis, MO

    Accelerating Environmental Progress through Collaborative Partnerships

    Thank you for allowing me to speak to you today about EPA’s role in promoting cooperative conservation.

    As a career public servant, I have spent almost 25 years with EPA – almost my entire professional career – as a scientist, a manager and now as the Administrator. Over the years, I have personally witnessed the amazing results that can be achieved when partners collaborate to address an environmental challenge – and I am grateful that President Bush has brought us all together to discuss the future of conservation based on this collaboration.

    During a famous speech in 1910, Teddy Roosevelt said that, “Conservation means development as much as it means protection.”

    Think about that for a minute: conservation means development as much as it means protection.

    Throughout his life, Roosevelt preached the moral value of conservation – to not waste the natural riches this great nation is blessed to have – to not rob the next generation of these resources. But he also recognized that in order to pass down the prosperity we have all enjoyed to the next generation, we cannot just stop progress. We cannot halt growth. Roosevelt believed we have a moral duty to both protect our resources and develop our future.

    The Environmental Protection Agency - there is no mention of “development” in our name. However, over EPA’s 35 years, “developing our future” is exactly what we have done.

    Instead of being viewed by some as a source of conflict, today EPA is proud to be a source of cooperation through our expanded efforts in compliance assistance, consent agreements and voluntary partnerships.

    Instead of being seen by some as a stumbling block to economic growth, today EPA is upholding environmental standards while working with individuals and industry to find solutions to challenges.

    And, most importantly, instead of focusing on solid, but incremental gains in environmental protection by mandating rules and regulations, EPA is working in cooperation with our partners – we are gathering everyone into a room like this one – and developing the collaborative partnerships that will accelerate the pace of protecting and conserving our nation’s environment.

    I do not believe EPA, or even the country, would be at the point we are today without Bill Ruckelshaus – who you will hear from tomorrow morning. Bill was the first Administrator of EPA and his lasting legacy is that he helped bring environmental protection to the forefront of our nation’s consciousness. 35 years ago, some people considered EPA, as well as the idea of protecting our environment, just a passing fad.

    Others looked to the federal government to solve the problem, saying, “Let someone else take care of it.”

    Those times have changed. Today, as I look around this room, I see hundreds of people from every background – from industry and government, to advocacy and private citizens – who realize that we are all partners in protecting our shared environment.

    That is why we are all here: to provide the American people with a cleaner, healthier environment in which to live, work and play.

    But the American people no longer just look to government to deliver results. They look to companies to supply them with products that are safe or energy efficient. They look to their local, states and tribal governments to do their part to protect their air, water and land. They look to their neighbors to be conscious of what they pour down their drains or throw into the garbage. And most importantly, they realize that they themselves have a substantial role to play in protecting our nation’s environment.

    EPA has been working with our partners to develop the future of environmental stewardship. We have seen tremendous success.

    Over the last four years alone under President Bush 12-hundred abandoned industrial sites have been made ready for reuse through the Brownfields program. From 2002 to 2003, toxic chemicals released into the environment declined by 6 percent. And in 2004, 800,000 acres of wetlands were restored or enhanced.

    EPA believes that in order to ensure the continued safety and health of our nation, we have a duty to accelerate our environmental progress through the use of 21st Century solutions. By reinvesting in our scientific foundation, encouraging evolving technologies, and promoting cooperation over conflict, we will meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

    EPA will continue to accelerate our nation’s environmental progress through the use of collaborative partnerships – specifically with our local, state and regional partners.

    Throughout this conference, you will be hearing from a number of our partners, but I am particularly pleased to share the stage this morning with Pat McCrory, the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina.

    Not only does Mayor McCrory have a strong environmental record for his hometown, he is the chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Environmental Committee and has been a major partner with EPA on bringing regional leaders together to address air quality and promote smart growth.
    I look forward to hearing from him on how the City of Charlotte has overcome its environmental challenges through the use of collaboration.

    It is through partners like Mayor McCrory that we will be able to spread the message of collaborative stewardship throughout the country.

    Since becoming Administrator earlier this year, I have had a chance to learn about communities across the U.S. that are already focused on results through collaboration.

    A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to attend one of six public meetings on the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration.

    Created by President Bush through an executive order, this unprecedented collaborative partnership has brought together resources and ideas from partners throughout the Great Lakes basin – regional, state, local, tribal, federal and non-governmental – to develop a strategy to ensure the lakes remain an international treasure, forever open to trade and tourism.

    As you can imagine, protecting the largest surface freshwater system on earth requires the efforts of partners from all levels of government and many organizations. Over 15-hundred stakeholders from all sectors of the Great Lakes community are currently participating on eight teams to develop recommendations to accelerate the restoration and protection of the lakes.

    Local communities have already shown to be leaders in protecting our Great Lakes. Yesterday, we heard from the Detroit River Partnership case study, which brought together the City of Detroit, business leaders, environmentalists, foundations and local citizens to address polluted river corridors, restore wildlife habitats and preserve recreational uses. Because of their effort, the Detroit River, connecting the Upper and Lower Great Lakes, is once again becoming a gathering place for wildlife and families.

    Some of our biggest environmental success stories have been accomplished by partnering on solutions to economic challenges. Over our four years of environmental advancements, our country’s GDP has increased by 10 percent. So, while our environmental health improves, so does our economic health – clear evidence that a growing economy and environmental results do, in fact, go hand-in-hand.

    EPA’s Brownfields Program is a prime example of this win-win scenario. Since its inception in 1995, the Brownfields Program has transformed the way contaminated property is perceived, addressed and managed.

    As opposed to focusing on regulatory mandates, this program relies on market incentives and private sector actions. By empowering states, communities and stakeholders to revitalize neighborhoods through the restoration of contaminated lands, this novel approach increases local tax bases, facilitates job growth, takes development pressure off underdeveloped open land, and improves the environment.

    EPA’s investment in the Brownfields Program has resulted in many accomplishments, including helping grantees leverage more than $6.5 billion in brownfields cleanup and redevelopment funding from the private and public sectors and helping them create approximately 25,000 new jobs.

    Most importantly, by turning brownfields into ball fields, industrial parks into community parks, and rail corridors into recreational trails, you bring hope back to a community. Hope for more jobs. Hope for a healthier environment. And, hope for the next generation.

    The program continues to look to the future by forming new partnerships and undertaking new initiatives to help revitalize mining and port communities – providing hope to even more neighborhoods across the country.

    Yesterday we also heard from our local partners who are revitalizing Phalen Corridor on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota. Once a thriving manufacturing center, the east side went through a 25-year period of abandonment and decay. However, through this community-driven effort:
    A collapsing infrastructure was transformed into job-creating facilities;
    Abandoned sites were converted into living wetlands; and,
    Crumbling properties were turned into bike trails, urban parks and green space.

    Their efforts revitalized and rehabilitated their community – put both property and people back to work – and turning eyesores into engines of economic rebirth.

    The Phalen Corridor project is an ideal illustration of turning decay into hope.

    The point is: conservation just makes sense for revitalizing local environments and local economies. And while St. Paul is an example of a high-tech solution to environmental challenges, sometimes all it takes is simple, but proven technology to do the job.

    I recently visited the neighborhood of North Philadelphia, where the community has been converting abandoned, derelict lots into urban, verdant oases. By replacing plots of pavement and rubble with grass and trees, this collaboration is turning urban blight into urban pride, reducing the environmental effects of stormwater runoff, and keeping rainwater out of the city’s overtaxed sewer system.

    Once again, advances in the urban environment have led to advances in the urban economy. Through this collaboration, property values have increased by as much as 30 percent. Who would have thought that a little grass could produce such results?

    For those of us with front and back yards, a patch of grass in the city might not seem like a big deal. But when I was in Philadelphia, I noticed two young girls who were riding their bikes on one of the lots we were touring. Where there was once a lot littered with abandoned cars and trash, there is now a safe, grassy plot of land for the children of that community to play. I went up to those girls and asked them how they liked their new play area. They replied, “We love it!” As I said before, who would have thought that a little grass could produce such results.

    Before I turn this over to Mayor McCrory, I would like to announce a new initiative EPA is working on to empower communities and grass-roots organizations to confront environmental challenges.

    Once finalized, EPA’s Good Samaritan Initiative will remove legal barriers that have prevented the cleanup of watersheds threatened by abandoned mine runoff. In the United States, it is estimated that more than a half-million abandoned mine sites may be polluting our waterways. Many of these problematic abandoned mines are on private land and those responsible for the pollution are long since gone. While there have been groups and local communities willing to take on the restoration of these watersheds, the potential liability of touching the sites have long discouraged voluntary cleanup efforts.

    In an innovative project, EPA is actively working with the conservation group Trout Unlimited to remove the fear of liability and costly litigation to allow them to clean up waste from old mines in the American Fork Canyon watershed in Utah. Although active mining operations ceased in the 1860s, the abandoned mine still threatens fish, wildlife and human health. By working cooperatively with this “Good Samaritan” partner, we hope to restore this watershed and help reclaim wetland for a rare resident trout population.

    We hope the Good Samaritan Initiative will be a springboard for future successes, such as we have seen from the Brownfields program. But unlike a Brownfield, these groups are not looking to purchase the property or profit from their efforts – they just want to practice voluntary stewardship that protects our shared environment.

    The bottom line is that this type of innovative partnership agreement -- coupled with targeted watershed grants and other assistance -- can help dramatically in revitalizing thousands of water bodies threatened by acid runoff.

    This EPA program will provide volunteer, nonprofit organizations with protection and certainty to help restore watersheds, and inspire others to do the same elsewhere. We will also pledge to work with Congressional and State partners on legislation to remove potential legal obstacles for Good Samaritan cleanups.

    Again, I would like to thank you for allowing me to speak to you today. As Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, I look to expand our efforts to accelerate environmental progress through collaboration with our local, state and regional partners. In the same spirit that ruled the Lewis and Clark expedition, which started here in St. Louis, I hope we can all leave tomorrow unified in our commitment to collaboration.

    During another speech, Teddy Roosevelt remarked, "There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country." I think many in this room would agree … but only by working together can we hand down an enduring legacy of environmental protection to the next generation of Americans.

    Thank you.