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The Resource Development Council, Anchorage, Alaska

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at the
Resource Development Council
Anchorage, Alaska

July 9, 2001

Thank you for that introduction.

It’s good to be here near the end of what has been an extraordinary four days for me in Alaska. I’ve had the opportunity to fish in one of the world’s most beautiful rivers, visit the first city in Alaska to dissolve its city government in favor of a Native village government, and take in the majesty of North America’s highest mountain. For a Jersey girl, this has been quite something.

And while Alaska is certainly very different from the state in which I live, one thing is the same no matter where one is from – Alaska’s magnificent beauty touches each of us somewhere deep inside. When I was fishing the Kenai River on Friday, my thoughts returned to the days, now many years ago, when I learned how to fish.

The farm on which I grew up had a small trout stream running through it, and some of my happiest memories are of being taught by my father how to cast and, when I finally could do it right, spending time with him fishing our little stream. I wish he could have been here with me the other day – he would have enjoyed it.

My husband, John, and I now make that farm our home – and the fishing in our stream is as good now as it was when I was a young girl – as my son can attest. That’s not an accident, of course. It is the result of years of good stewardship of the stream and the land through which it runs. That stream’s purity is a gift from my father’s generation to mine – and I intend to leave that same gift for my children and theirs.

That’s really what responsible stewardship of the natural wonders we have been given is all about – leaving the air cleaner, the water purer, and the land better protected than it was when it was given over to us.

That’s not an easy goal in Alaska, where so much of your state remains in an unspoiled state of pristine wilderness. It’s hard to improve on nature’s perfection. But, as you know, the practices of modern society don’t recognize political boundaries. That’s why, for example, persistent organic pollutants produced thousands of miles from here can be found in the blubber of Arctic animals that are a food source for Native peoples.

Of course, Alaska doesn’t face the same types of challenges many other states face. It will be a long time, if ever, before the threat of suburban sprawl rises to the top of your list of environmental concerns. Here in Alaska you have about one person for every square mile of land. Compare that with my home state, New Jersey, with almost 1,100 people per square mile.

The challenges you face are different from those faced by states like New Jersey. But the solutions are, in many respects, very much the same.

When I was governor, for example, we embraced the wisdom of responsible development through necessity. In a place where people live so close to one another on so little land, we have to develop in ways that respect the rights of our neighbors and honor our responsibility to the land. The consequences of failing to do so are real and immediate.

Here in Alaska, however, some might argue that responsible patterns of development aren’t necessary, that there’s more than enough land to go around – and then some. That’s where you have the advantage. You can follow responsible development principles from the start. You don’t have to undo the errors of the past before you can start building the future.

The fact that this group has, for 25 years, advanced the tenets of responsible development is a tribute to your foresight and to the depth of your commitment to responsible stewardship of this great state. You know that responsible growth doesn’t equal no growth, but not everyone does.

I believe that Alaskans understand their unique responsibility to be good stewards of this state and are equal to the task. I also believe that the rest of America needs to understand that Alaskans have a right to earn a living – a good living – to provide for themselves and their
families. Protecting Alaska’s environment does not require impoverishing Alaska’s people.

There’s no doubt that Alaska is a long way from Washington, D.C., not just geographically, but in attitude as well. Here on the last frontier, you know that the people closest to a challenge are often the best equipped to meet that challenge. That hasn’t always been true of people in Washington.

Sure, the federal government can be an important ally in any effort to promote environmental protection. And in this state, where two-thirds of the land is owned by the federal government, we have to work together. But what Washington too often forgets is that being an ally requires working in partnership – not dictating from afar.

When President Bush talks about changing the tone in Washington, that’s one of the things he’s working to accomplish. He understands that Washington wisdom isn’t superior to Alaskan acumen – especially when it comes to finding the answers to Alaska’s challenges. He wants to work as partners – and so do I – to protect your environment and promote your prosperity.

This Administration believes that economic prosperity and environmental protection can and must go hand in hand. Today’s technology is developing new ways in which we can use nature’s resources without abusing them. In countless places across America, responsible businesses, creative government leaders, and concerned citizens like you are pioneering new practices and methods that can help America meet our environmental goals without destroying jobs and stunting economic growth.

When I was working as a member of the President’s Task Force on Energy, I had the opportunity to learn about the contribution Alaska can make to America’s future energy needs without having to sacrifice the future of Alaska’s environment. As the President has made clear, we don’t have to make a choice between energy production and environmental protection. We can have both.

Of course, an integral part of having both is responsible energy use. Conservation also plays an important role in meeting America’s energy needs. At the EPA, we will be working hard to make sure all Americans know how they can do their part to conserve energy. But our efforts are meant to complement the other initiatives the President has called for, not replace them.

The world is a much more complex place than those who believe all issues can be boiled down to an either-or-choice are willing to concede. Whether it concerns energy production, or mining, timber, or fishery issues, there are rarely simple choices.

That’s why I’ve long believed that Washington needs to preach less and listen more. Both during my service as a county official, and as a governor, I came to appreciate very quickly those times Washington actually listened to what I had to say. And that’s a large part of why I’m here – to listen to you and to see and experience the unique challenges you face and the unique set of skills and concerns you can bring to meeting them.

This trip to Alaska is my first, but not my last. What I have already seen here just reinforces, not just in my head but in my heart, my belief in the importance of partnerships between Washington and those it serves. I have been “North to the Future,” and it works.

Thank you.