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MOU Signing with the U.S. Customs Service, Port Elizabeth, New Jersey

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
on signing a
Memorandum of Understanding
with the
United States Customs Service
Port Elizabeth, New Jersey

January 15, 2003

Good afternoon. I am pleased to be with Commissioner (Robert) Bonner today here in Port Elizabeth, New Jersey.

We are here at the largest port complex on the East Coast, a bustling commercial hub for the region and the nation. Last year, more than 20 million tons of cargo were handled by the Port of New York and New Jersey. That includes the equivalent of more than 1.5 million twenty-foot containers loaded with imports from around the world. Laid end to end, they would reach from here to Los Angeles and back.

The enormous volume of cargo that comes through this and America = s other ports makes a vital contribution to the health and vitality of America = s economy. Unfortunately, it also provides a possible point of entry to terrorists who want to import substances that could be used to threaten the safety of our people and the security of our homeland.

The U.S. Customs Service has the important mission of securing our Nation from such threats. They are on the front lines of this and the hundreds of other seaports and points of entry operating around our country, working to ensure that this vital part of our national economy cannot be used as part of a terrorist plot.

In discharging this mission, Customs collects information about various chemical substances that enter the United States. This information can be very useful to EPA because it makes it easier for us to ensure that such substances enter the country legally, and once they arrive, they are being handled properly and lawfully.

The Memorandum of Understanding we are signing today will enable our two agencies to seamlessly and efficiently share the information Customs collects by providing for the electronic exchange of that information. It will make it easier for us to meet our responsibilities under several federal laws designed to safeguard the environment and protect human health.

In addition, this MOU advances one of the important homeland security goals contained in EPA= s homeland security strategic plan B helping to secure America = s critical infrastructure against terrorist activities. Because of EPA = s long experience in regulating hazardous and toxic substances, being able to evaluate the type, quantity, origin, and destination of chemical substances that are entering the United States will ensure compliance with environmental laws and help us better protect the American people.

There = s no doubt that this MOU erects one more barrier for terrorists to cross in their quest to do us harm. It = s a 21st century equivalent of the giant iron chain that was stretched across the Hudson River at West Point during the Revolution to protect our new nation from the enemy. It uses today= s technology to link Customs and EPA as strong, effective partners on behalf of the American people. It puts the terrorists on notice: we are watching you.

I want to thank Commissioner Bonner and his staff at the Customs Service for working with us to successfully negotiate this MOU. I also want to thank J.P. Suarez and his staff in our Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance for all their hard work in bringing about this agreement.

EPA looks forward to working closely with the Customs Service to ensure that our seaports and borders continue to be used only to promote commerce and prosperity for the United States and never to import instruments of destruction.

Thank you.