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National Association of Counties Legislative Conference

                         Carol M. Browner

Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Association of Counties Legislative Conference

                         Washington, D.C.

                      Prepared for Delivery
                         March 5, 1996

I want to thank President-elect Hightower for that introduction, and for his work as a member of EPA's Local Government Advisory Committee. I want to thank President Bovin for inviting me to speak with you here today. And I want to thank your past president, Randy Franke, who has agreed to be the chair of our Local Government Advisory Committee.

It is a pleasure to be here with all of you who play such an important role in protecting public health and the environment in communities across this country.

Three years ago, NACo was the very first organization I addressed after becoming the Administrator of EPA. Over the past three years, the Clinton Administration has worked with you to build a strong partnership, in which local governments and the federal government each do what we do best to protect public health and our environment. We have worked to add flexibility, common sense, and cost-effectiveness to the system. And together, we have made a great deal of progress.

For small communities, we have put in place a good, common-sense enforcement policy, giving communities with limited resources the flexibility they need to address their environmental problems.

We are working with you to make the Clean Water Act work in common-sense, cost-effective ways. We expect that our reinvention efforts will reduce the paperwork associated with the Clean Water Act by 25And with your help, we are reinventing the storm water program that addresses the important problem of polluted runoff in urban areas. The nation's counties are represented in this effort by Annabeth Surbaugh from Johnson County, Kansas, and Jean Michaels from Olmstead County, Minnesota. Through this effort, we can continue our progress in cleaning up our nation's waters -- in ways that work for communities large and small.

Through EPA's Project XL -- which stands for Excellence and Leadership -- communities are finding creative new ways to meet and exceed environmental goals. Across the country, counties and cities are coming forward with proposals for getting better environmental results by using strategies that are tailored to the particular needs of their communities.

Today I am pleased to announce that we have selected the very first community to launch a reinvention project under Project XL. Anaheim, California, has crafted an innovative strategy to control air pollution at less cost, and to use the savings to make new advances in groundwater protection. We look forward to working with the people of Anaheim on this very exciting project.

Through our Brownfields Action Agenda, we are working to clean up and redevelop the abandoned and contaminated property that lies idle in communities across this country -- to bring new jobs, a new tax base, a new hope.

We have removed 27,000 sites from the Superfund master list, lifting the stigma and clearing the way for redevelopment in community after community.

We have removed 12,000 small parties from the liability trap, and by the end of this year we will remove at least another 10,000.

We have new policies in effect making it crystal clear that -- if you are a municipality that involuntarily acquires contaminated property, if you are a lender or a prospective purchaser who is not responsible for pollution at the site -- you will not get caught up in the liability net.

We have funded brownfields pilot projects in 40 communities.

And in his State of the Union address, President Clinton announced an additional, important effort -- to provide targeted tax incentives to those who purchase and clean up old contaminated sites.

But if we are to continue to move forward, we need Congress to act. We need Congress to fix the Superfund law.

In sixteen years, Superfund has protected millions of Americans from serious health risks -- removed toxic waste from hundreds of sites-- and prevented untold amounts of future pollution. But the Superfund law is broken and it needs to be fixed.

The Clinton Administration has taken aggressive action to make Superfund work faster, fairer, and more efficiently. In just three years, we have completed more cleanups than were completed in the previous 12 years of the Superfund program. Today's Superfund program is fundamentally different from what it was several years ago.

But there is a limit to what we can do administratively. To complete the reforms we have begun and clean up the remaining sites quickly and effectively, we need a new law -- a responsible new law that will continue to bring environmental renewal and economic revitalization to our communities, while continuing to hold polluters accountable for the damage they have done.

We also need Congress to restore an adequate level of funding for toxic waste cleanup -- and for public health and environmental protection as a whole.

During the past few months of stops and starts and temporary funding, EPA was forced to stop cleanups at 68 toxic waste sites across the country. Environmental inspections, environmental enforcement, could not be carried out. Research to protect the public from drinking water contamination stopped. Citizens' requests for information went unanswered.

And the budget cutbacks proposed by Congressional leaders would continue to roll back our ability to protect the public.

President Clinton's budget plan will allow us to balance the budget and achieve a safe, clean environment for ourselves and for our children. But the Congressional leadership's budget would cut environmental enforcement. Their budget would cut standard-setting on toxic air pollution. Their budget would cut funding to help communities protect drinking water and keep raw sewage out of rivers and off beaches.

Make no mistake about it: their budget means less clean air, dirty water, and environmental protection by triage. And that is not acceptable to this Administration.

I am also deeply concerned about the "regulatory reform" bill that the House will be voting on very shortly. In recent weeks, we were hopeful that the Congressional leadership had heard the American people's desire for strong, common-sense environmental protection. When we heard of the new "regulatory reform" proposal, we were hopeful that it might reflect that desire on the part of the American people.

Unfortunately, in the proposal being voted on in the House, the principle of moderation is missing, and instead we have another bill that undermines public health and environmental protection. I am deeply concerned that this legislation could paralyze public health and environmental protection. It could force us to reopen public health standards that have long since stood the test of time -- and new standards that are providing new and important protections to the public.

Real regulatory reform protects the American people and the air, the water, and the land we all share. Instead, this bill puts polluters first, and that is not acceptable to the Clinton Administration.

If we are to continue to move forward, we must accept the challenge President Clinton spoke of in his State of the Union address. We need to return to the bipartisan commitment to protecting public health and our environment that has served this country for 25 years.

Twenty-five years ago, the people of this country -- Democrats, Republicans, and independents -- joined together to say: "We must stop the pollution. We must save our natural heritage." And over the past 25 years, we have accomplished a great deal.

But we have not finished the job. One in three Americans still lives an in area where the air is too polluted to meet federal health standards. Asthma is on the rise. One in four Americans lives near a toxic waste dump. Forty percent of our rivers, lakes, and streams are too polluted for fishing or swimming.

As government -- local, state, and federal -- we have an obligation to our citizens, to protect our air, our water, our land, the health of our children. The job can only be done if we work in partnership. We have a tightly interwoven relationship. The whole cloth is achieved only when each of us brings what we can uniquely contribute.

A clean environment. Safer streets. Healthy families. Strong communities. These are the values that we as Americans hold dear. Let us continue to work together to protect our health, our neighborhoods, our cities, our economy -- so that all of us and our children and our grandchildren can enjoy a healthy and a prosperous life. Together, we can meet any challenge, achieve any goal.

Thank you.