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Environmental Justice Roundtable Detroit, MI

Carol M. Browner, Administrator
 Environmental Protection Agency
 Remarks Prepared for Delivery
 Environmental Justice Roundtable
 Detroit, MI
                        July 17, 1998

     Thank you Mayor Archer -- for your steadfast leadership on the revitalization of Detroit, and all you have done to improve the lives of this city's citizens. I especially want to thank you for calling all of us here today, for organizing this important meeting and the tours this morning.  

     I was delighted to accept your invitation. This is an important opportunity for me to hear your concerns, and for all of us here to roll up our sleeves and work together on concrete, constructive ways that we can revitalize our cities, attract development, and still protect the basic rights of all citizens.  

     For the past five and half years, the Clinton Administration has made it a top priority to help revitalize our nation's cities -- to replace the despair and neglect that has plagued many urban centers with the hope and promise of new jobs, new resources, and new resolve.

     We've all been working hand in hand -- mayors, county officials, community leaders, businesses, environmental justice groups, and environmentalists. And the results not only have met our expectations, but far exceeded them.

     Brownfields redevelopment is one of the best examples -- our cities' abandoned industrial properties.  Today, EPA is working with 150 communities across the country to breathe new life into brownfields and to return them to the economic engines they once were.  

     And this week in Washington, Vice President Gore announced an additional 71 pilot projects.  Altogether, that's 228 pilots across the country -- sparks that will ignite a fire of renewal throughout our cities and across the country.

     We've come a long way with brownfields.
     In Dallas, Texas, a $200,000 grant from EPA has leveraged nearly $54 million in public and private redevelopment dollars.     In Bridgeport, Connecticut, local vision has led to the cleanup and redevelopment of more than 120 acres of brownfields, creating hundreds of new jobs for Bridgeport's citizens.

     In Toledo, a new pilot community, the city will undertake a massive evaluation of brownfields, and has committed to involving city residents every step of the way.

     Here in Detroit, we've worked with the state and the community to evaluate 14 brownfields sites, and helped redevelop the Scotten Property, an abandoned steel and porcelain plant turned into facility that now produces plastics for automobiles.

     Across the nation, in partnership with state and local government and communities, we have leveraged nearly $1 billion in private funds for redevelopment of brownfields, from Dallas to Sacramento to Pittsburgh -- creating more than 2,000 jobs in the process.  Together, we are proving that you can protect both people and prosperity.

     That is why when some people say we can't protect communities that are unfairly burdened by pollution and still revitalize our cities, we know the opposite is true.  Time and time again, this Administration has proven that you can have robust economic growth and still have strong protections -- protections of our environment, health, and our basic rights as citizens.  These are all inextricably linked.

     Like every community in this country, minority communities want water that is safe for drinking, streams safe for fishing, air that is healthy to breathe, and land free from toxic chemicals.  And they want opportunity -- opportunity to work and make a decent living.

     But some minority communities believe they have been disproportionately affected by pollution because of their race.

     Our nation's 34-year old Civil Rights Act requires the federal government to ensure that federal funds are not used to discriminate against people on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

     Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, citizens may file complaints with EPA that allege discrimination from the programs and activities of people who receive EPA funding.  State and local governments carry out most of the day-to-day permitting decisions with EPA funding. But the Civil Rights law only allows citizens to file complaints with the federal government, not with states or local governments.

     EPA now has 15 formal complaints under investigation from such communities. And with this in mind, EPA has a responsibility to address those complaints on their merits in a fair and timely manner.

    And we are confident that we can do so without thwarting the redevelopment of our urban centers.  Addressing these complaints need not scare businesses away, nor cause our inner cities to backslide into ruin and decay.

     Our experience tells us that if you give people the opportunity to sit down together and  listen to one another, we can find common-sense, cost-effective solutions that also provide every American and every American community with equal environmental and public health protection.  

     Recently, we issued an interim guidance on how we would manage these claims of discrimination. This is just a starting point to open up a dialogue with business leaders, community leaders, and state officials and mayors so that together we can shape a final policy that works for everyone.

     A meaningful dialogue is behind our Title VI Advisory Committee -- 23 representatives from state, tribal, and local governments, industry, academia, non-governmental organizations, and community groups working to develop recommendations on how to meaningfully address Title VI concerns up-front   before permits become the subject of complaints.

     Our goal is clear: First, to provide citizens with input into decisionmaking and swift resolution of their concerns. Second, to give businesses a climate of certainty that fosters development. And third, not to second-guess responsible local and state decisionmaking.

     We at EPA do not have all the answers. And that is the reason I am here today -- to work with you so we can move forward with more answers than questions.

     Elliott Laws   our former Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response   chairs our advisory committee. He is here today, and he will convey your ideas to the committee members at their next meeting at the end of this month.  

     And I can tell you that EPA will not move forward, we will not finalize the Title VI guidance, until we have received the committee's final input, which we expect in December.

     So let us begin our meeting. But before we do, I want to set the record straight: As we move forward today, let's have a discussion based on the facts -- not on rumor.

     The fact is, EPA has received formal environmental justice complaints that we have a legal responsibility to address.

    The fact is, we are working with all sides to shape a policy that works for everyone.

     The fact is, there is no evidence that redevelopment is grinding to a halt.  In no case has a Title VI petition pending before EPA held up redevelopment in our cities.

     Mayor Guido, you know this firsthand. When minority community groups voiced concern over a Ford automobile coating plant in Dearborn, we worked with the city and state to address those concerns up front. Changes were made in the permit, the permit was issued, and the plant is moving forward.

     In Lawrence, Massachusetts, Gencorp involved the entire community, including minority groups, from the very start of their effort to redevelop a brownfield into a plant that produces space age polymers. Today, the project is underway and the community is on board. According to a top Gencorp official -- and I quote, "The Lawrence experience proves that economic growth, environmental justice, and environmental restoration can work together for the betterment of the whole community."

     Let me say that a Title VI complaint has never been filed against a brownfields redevelopment.  Involving communities up front, and every step of the way works.

     We've seen this with brownfields.

     We've seen this with our successful efforts to clean up Superfund toxic waste sites. We've established 50 advisory groups at toxic waste sites across the nation. We've provided $12 million for technical assistance for citizens, to ensure their informed participation. And to date, we've cleaned up more Superfund sites in the last five years than in the previous 12 years.

     The process is working. Development is moving forward. Our citizens are being protected.

     Thirty-four years ago, when the Civil Rights Act was adopted, no one fully appreciated that pollution could also be a means for effecting some communities more than others.  But I remain convinced -- economic development can continue while we protect the rights of all our citizens to a safe and healthy environment.

     Instead of people scaring the public with predictions of economic calamity, the nation must come together and take responsible, common sense steps to ensure protection of public health and the environment in every one of this nation's communities. Ensuring the basic rights of every citizen is not about stopping development, but about responsible development.

     I call on you, the mayors, to help us find ways to build our cities so that our economy continues to grow, and no American community is left behind.   Thank you.