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Annual Meeting of the Environmental Council of the States, Honolulu, Hawaii

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at the
Annual Meeting
of the
Environmental Council of the States
Honolulu, Hawaii
August 26, 2001

Aloha, and thank you for that introduction. I’m delighted to be with you today, and not just because it’s always good to have an excuse to come to Hawaii.

Did you know that Hawaii is the most popular destination in the country for people renewing their wedding vows? Well, it is – and in a sense, that’s why I’m here today – to renew the relationship that binds Washington and the states together when it comes to protecting our environment.

Thirty-one years ago, the federal and state governments were brought together in what one could characterize as a shotgun marriage. And like most marriages performed back then, one of the parties was expected to agree to obey the other.

Of course, if you’ve attended any weddings recently, you’ve noticed the word “obey” is gone. So as we renew our commitment today, I think it’s time we eliminated the word “obey” from our vows. Let’s instead agree to reaffirm our partnership, fully recognizing that 31 years of experience, expertise, and innovation has earned the states full and equal status with Washington as protectors of America’s environment.

That’s what the President and I are committed to doing with you. This commitment reflects, I believe, our experience as governors. We both know that Washington doesn’t have a monopoly on all the answers, and that the states – because they are closer to the problems – are also often closer to the solutions.

Recognizing that, I am pleased that we have drawn on many of the outstanding people within your ranks – people who’ve been close to the problems and their solutions – to take on some of the Agency’s most challenging leadership posts.

Bob Varney, a past ECOS president, is serving as Region 1 RA, Tom Skinner is on board as head of Region 5, and Don Welsh is our new RA in Region 3. Tracy Mehan is heading our water office, and we look forward to having in place Kim Nelson in environmental information and Don Schregardus in enforcement.

Each of these people brings with them the hands-on, practical experience that one can only get by serving in high-ranking state environmental posts. Their skills and experience will nicely complement the Agency’s very talented career staff in Washington and in the regions.
Something else I learned as governor was you have to get out there, you’ve got to be where the people are. Since becoming EPA administrator on January 31st, I’ve visited every region at least once and have traveled to 21 states – and that doesn’t count my trips home! There is nothing to match the experience of seeing first-hand how our creative and innovative state partners are making things work. Every one of my visits has only reinforced my commitment to reaffirming our partnership with you.

Of course, as in any marriage, money is often an issue. That’s why I’m pleased that the President’s proposed budget reflects our commitment to a new partnership with the states. About half of our proposed budget – $3.3 billion – consists of grants for states, tribes, and other EPA partners. That’s half-a-billion dollars more than what was requested for these grants in FY 2001. It includes several new initiatives that reinforce our determination to build a new relationship.

The President’s proposed new $25 million enforcement grant program is one such idea. As you know, the states shoulder the lion’s share of the enforcement burden in America. Every year, you perform about 95 percent of the Nation’s environmental compliance inspections and take about 90 percent of the enforcement actions. These grants are designed to help you enhance your efforts to achieve results through enforcement. We want to move this forward.

Unfortunately, however, some have decided to use this proposal as a weapon with which to attack the Administration, claiming it represents a retreat from EPA’s commitment to enforcing America’s environmental laws. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want you to know that we are committed to this program and will work with the Congress to ensure that it becomes reality. Your help in convincing your Senators will also go a long way to making this happen.

Another budgetary commitment to our new partnership is a request for $25 million for grants to help you improve your environmental information systems and to integrate the various state and tribal information networks. As we face an evermore complex range of environmental challenges, the ability to easily exchange up-to-date, accurate information is going to be crucial to our success. This program will both improve accuracy and provide for better decision making.

Of course, the budget the President submitted to Congress in April does not fully reflect the extent to which we are committed to building a new partnership with the states. Next year’s budget will be the first that we will have the chance to fully form – from the ground up. We are in the midst of pulling together our ideas for that budget – Fiscal Year 2003 – right now.

As part of that process, ECOS was included in our Annual Budget Planning Meeting and our budget staff has been working closely with your Planning Committee to ensure that your priorities are heard. I want to thank you for making the commitment to participate in this process with us, even in the midst of your already very busy schedules.

And while I can’t go into detail about specifics about our FY 2003 budget – because there are no specifics yet – I do want to share with you the principles that we are using to craft our request.

From the day I took this job, the president asked and I have been saying that my goal as Administrator was simply to leave America’s air cleaner, its water purer, and its land better protected than it was when we took office. On the surface, this goal sounds very simple. But underlying the goal is what I believe is a profound change in the way the EPA approaches its mission.

To begin with, it suggests that we are going to stop measuring environmental progress by quantifying how much process we’ve been able to devise. Instead, we’re going to measure our success by measuring the state of the environment. Is our air cleaner or not? Is our water purer or not? Is our land better protected or not? It’s time to start asking those questions, not just about our overall progress, but about individual programs and regulations.

That is why, as a first step, I have directed every one of my program office leaders at EPA to justify their budgets by explaining how their requests will move us toward our goals – and by explaining how we are going to measure that progress.

We have also begun an effort, under Linda Fisher’s leadership, to work closely with ECOS and other partners to improve the way we set priorities and allocate resources. This will help ensure that all our efforts are focused on the most important challenges we face and that we can better measure our results.

The long-standing focus on process, rather than real results, may help explain why a majority of the American people believe that our environment is in only fair or poor condition and that the quality of our environment is getting worse.

You and I both know that the condition of our environment has improved significantly over the past 30 years. We know that the actions government has taken have reversed and in some cases eliminated some of the most challenging environmental issues America faced in 1970. But so long as people believe that the environment is sick and only getting worse, it will be difficult to win the support needed to move away from a regulation-heavy approach.

Clearly, we need to do more to let people know that the next generation of environmental challenges requires a new set of solutions. As we seek to reshape the regulatory environment, part of what will determine whether or not we succeed is whether we are able to educate people about the gains that have been made, the problems that remain, and the need for a new approach.

For example, a recent poll showed that about two-thirds of the American people believe we need more regulation to advance the goal of cleaner air and water. A similar margin also believes that economic prosperity and environmental protection can go hand in hand. Our challenge is to persuade people that efforts to shift the focus away from Washington to the states does not represent a retreat from environmental protection.

That is why I have staff working on developing what I call an environmental report card, so that every year the American people can have the information they need to measure the success – or failure – of our efforts.

We did this in New Jersey, as Bob Shinn can tell you, and it worked. We looked at measures like beach closings and shellfish bed openings, air quality days and open space preserved, and then made sure people knew about it.

This proved to be a powerful tool, not just to educate people, but also to ensure that we have the information we need to stay on track. Calling, for example, an air pollution prevention program a success because a record number of fines were issued doesn’t make sense if the air isn’t any cleaner. After all, it doesn’t matter how many swings you take at the ball if you don’t make contact every once in a while.

It’s in the area of reducing air pollution that I believe we are getting ready to hit a home run. Your bosses – through the NGA – recently called upon Congress to establish a “flexible, market-based program to significantly reduce and cap emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, [and] mercury...providing market-based incentives, such as emissions-trading credits to help achieve the required reductions.”

I am pleased that in several weeks, the Administration is going to put forth such an approach. This proposal will seek to establish mandatory reductions by power plants of NOx, SO2, and mercury, while also providing the flexibility needed to achieve these reductions in ways that make both environmental and economic sense. I should also mention that we believe our proposal will, on its own, result in substantial progress toward air quality standards attainment in most of the United States.

The President’s proposal is modeled on the very successful Acid Rain program which has, over the past decade, achieved more air pollution reductions, more cost-effectively, than all other air programs combined. The wide acceptance of this program – industry compliance is at 100 percent – and the efficiency with which it is run – it takes fewer than 20 EPA employees to run it – makes it a model worth following.

Another thing the acid rain program proves is that we can make progress that people do notice. Because this program has succeeded in meeting clear and measurable goals, acid rain has virtually evaporated as an issue in the public’s mind. When people know what we’re trying to accomplish, and know how to judge our progress, it makes a real difference.

Now we need to make a difference by passing new mandatory air pollution caps.

The President and I are ready to build on the success of the acid rain program by imposing more stringent caps on sulfur and by expanding it to include NOx and mercury, but again, we are going to need your help.

You have the hands-on experience to know that we need legislation like this to reach our goal of making America’s air cleaner. Perhaps more than anyone else, you have the credibility to make that argument. I hope you will.

There are, of course, other areas where I am personally committed to renewing our partnership with the states. Let me touch on several of them.

First, I want to assure you of my personal interest in seeing NEPPS succeed and expand. When I was governor, New Jersey was one of the first states selected to join with the EPA in NEPPS, so I know its value, both to states and to the Agency.

To ensure that NEPPS is fulfilling its potential – and because there is always room for improvement – I will be directing each of my regional administrators to provide me with regular reports on how NEPPS is working in the states in their regions. Where it’s working well, I want to make sure we share those success stories with others. Where there are problems, I want to make sure we fix them. Where there are new opportunities – especially with states that are not yet participating – I want to make sure we embrace them.

NEPPS is an excellent model of how EPA should work with the states. It focuses on results and builds partnerships that help achieve those results. It provides positive incentives and produces positive returns. It proves that we really are ready to move from command and control to cooperation and accomplishment.

Of course, the search for finding new ways that work doesn’t always succeed on the first attempt. Thomas Edison, for example, tried 6,000 different filaments in his incandescent lamp before finding the one that worked. Some might argue that had he been partnering with the federal government in his effort to develop the light bulb, his lab might have been shut down after the first failure.

To put it bluntly, EPA needs to allow more room for failures and setbacks in its quest to encourage innovation and advancement. Too often, we pull the plug too early. That can both stop a good idea from getting better and can discourage people from taking the kinds of risks that often produce the most innovative solutions.

I am eager to work closely with you to discover ways in which we can do more to foster innovative new efforts by the states. Our Office of Policy, Economics and Innovation has been working on a plan to accomplish exactly that, which is available here in draft form. I hope you will take the time to look over this plan and give us your comments. We are eager to bring our cooperation on innovation to the next level.

The ongoing effort to reclaim America’s brownfields is an area where EPA has encouraged innovation and local control, and it has really paid off. To help keep the ball rolling, the President’s budget included $98 million to support community-based efforts to assess, cleanup, and redevelop brownfields across America. That’s a $5 million hike over last year’s enacted budget.

In addition, we are hopeful that Congress will enact brownfield legislation that embodies the principles the President discussed during the campaign, including providing you with more resources and tools to address the various brownfields challenges you face in ways that make sense in the communities in your states. As you know, the Senate passed such legislation earlier this spring. We are hopeful the House will act this fall, because the President is eager to sign a good brownfields bill.

Having talked a bit about the air and land, let me address our water challenges for a minute. Water is likely to be the major environmental issue of the 21st century. It is clear that the next generation of environmental progress in water demands the adoption of a watershed-based approach. I have asked EPA staff to work with you to identify perhaps as many as 25 different watersheds throughout the country for specific improvement.

With the focus moving from point source to nonpoint source pollution as the primary cause of most of America’s remaining water pollution challenges, there is just no other way to move forward. This is one area that simply will not succeed without close cooperation, not just between the states and federal government, but among the states as well.

That’s why the President’s budget fully maintains support for EPA’s core water quality programs – programs that help your states manage your water programs and address nonpoint source pollution. We will be working with you find funding to help you develop TMDL standards for your most impaired waters, as well as to provide technical assistance in the adoption and implementation of new drinking water standards. We also maintain support for the development of beach monitoring and notification programs by state and local governments.

And because this Administration believes you should be empowered to set water priorities in your states according to your critical needs as you see them, the President’s budget will continue to provide your states with the flexibility to transfer funds between your clean water and drinking water State Revolving Funds.

Similarly, addressing the country’s water system infrastructure challenge depends on a new level of partnership between us. The President’s budget proposal includes $2.1 billion in grants to states to ensure that every American community enjoys safe and clean water. Overall, the President’s request for water infrastructure is $500 million greater than last year’s request.

This is a good start, but it’s only a start. As we move forward, we will need your ideas and your help in crafting the range of solutions that will meet the various challenges as they exist in various parts of the country.

I’ve covered a lot of ground here today, but that’s unavoidable. There are so many opportunities for us to work together. I didn’t want to leave any out. Of course, I haven’t touched on everything. Such important areas as children’s health, for example, are being covered in other sessions, and I didn’t want this speech to go on forever. After all, renewing one’s vows shouldn’t take longer than the wedding did.

But when it comes to affirming my commitment to you that EPA is ready – and is already working – to bring our partnership to a new level, I have just two simple words to say: “I do.”

Thank you.