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National Wildlife Federation’s 65th Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C.

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman
at the
National Wildlife Federation’s
65th Annual Meeting
Washington, D.C.

April 6, 2001

Thank you, Paula (Del Guidice), for that introduction. It’s good to be with you today.

Let me begin by congratulating you on 65 years as “America’s Grassroots Conservation Voice.”

Your organization was one of the first to bring the important message of environmental stewardship to the American people. Through your outstanding educational programs, beautiful publications, and effective citizen action, you have helped raise the environmental consciousness of several generations of Americans. So thank you, thank you for all you have done to help us learn to be good stewards of this great and beautiful land.

As I was preparing to speak with you today, I took a few minutes to look at your web site. Right there at your home page I read these words, “The National Wildlife Federation is the nation's largest member-supported conservation group, uniting individuals, organizations, businesses, and government to protect wildlife, wild places, and the environment.” I have to tell you, that was music to my ears.

As I go about my work at the EPA, the model I am working to build is much like yours. I am seeking to bring together as partners all those with want to work with us to preserve, protect, and improve our environment for our families, and their futures.

This effort will be one way the Bush Administration makes real the President’s commitment during the campaign to make the federal government more citizen-centered and results-oriented. At EPA, we will be guided not by process but by performance.

Your organization has, over the years, shown a remarkable ability to get things done in ways that endure far beyond the morning headlines. You know how to bring together resources available from every level to make a difference at the local level. Whoever first coined the phrase, “Think globally, act locally” was probably familiar with your work.

The Agency that President Bush has given me the honor to lead has rarely had a problem thinking globally. But I do believe we can do better at helping others act locally. I am convinced that we have reached a point in our national life where we can move beyond the command and control model that has long-defined Washington’s relationship with the rest of the country on environmental policy. The time is ripe for partnership-building.
It’s been more than 30 years now since the EPA was created. And as we consider the past three decades, I think we can all agree that the work done by the EPA has helped transform the state of America’s environment. By nearly every measure, our environment is healthier today than it was in 1970. Our air is cleaner, our water purer, and our land is better protected.

Over that same time, thanks in good measure to the work you have been doing so well, we have also seen a transformation in the way millions of Americans and thousands of American businesses approach their own environmental responsibilities.

Not too long ago, most of us never gave a second thought to how our efforts to grow greener grass might affect a nearby river. Now we see organic lawn management practices sprouting up.

There was a time when most businesses viewed environmental requirements as unwanted intruders. Today, many business leaders make superior environmental performance an inherent part of their business strategy.

Where we once took our environmental and natural resources for granted, we now instinctively understand how precious they are and how important they are to our future. That means we are ready for a new approach. It’s an approach that you are familiar with because it’s been at the core of your work: building partnerships – partnerships centered on a common goal.

That’s what I want to do with you, build and strengthen the bonds that united us. To that end, I want to discuss a few areas where I think we can work together in the coming months and years to get things done.

The first concerns an area in which I know we can make progress – private land conservation. I want to find new ways to work with America’s private landowners to limit sprawl, preserve open space, and reward responsible stewardship.

Every acre of privately owned land provides enormous environmental benefits. These lands help protect watersheds, improve air quality, provide wildlife habitat, and maintain an important part of the American economy and way of life.

People who spend time on the land know the importance of responsible land stewardship. I know a little bit about that myself. I was raised on my family’s farm in Oldwick, New Jersey. At an early age, my parents taught me a deep and abiding respect for the land of which we were only the custodians. My husband and I now make that farm our home and we feel a real sense of responsibility to it. That’s a feeling I believe most private land owners share.

Of course, in recent years we’ve seen increasing amounts of open space lost to housing developments, mega-malls, and industrial parks. Now, I’m not against progress and I understand that people have the right to use their land appropriately. But, I do believe that more can be done to provide incentives and rewards for private landowners who want to resist the pressures of development.

In my home state, voters in 1998 passed a referendum to provide the funds needed to preserve one million acres of open space and farmland – and they weren’t alone. All across America, people are supporting efforts like this in their communities. Each election cycle, 80 percent of the open space ballot questions pass, generating about $7 billion for open space preservation. There’s a great deal of support for this approach. It’s truly a public-private partnership that works.

Another area where I know we can work together is closely linked to responsible private land stewardship. It’s what I see as the greatest clean water challenge in America – nonpoint source pollution of our rivers, lakes, and estuaries.

Nonpoint source pollution is the main reason that about one-third of surveyed lakes, rivers, and estuaries aren’t clean enough for fishing swimming, or drinking. That’s better than things once were, but it’s not good enough

There is much that can be done to improve the health of our waters, but I believe the key to success lies in taking a watershed protection approach to controlling nonpoint source pollution.
When I was governor in New Jersey, we adopted watershed management as the cornerstone of our clean water program. In my last year as governor, I proposed a far-reaching water management rule designed to protect our watersheds by ensuring that development and other activity occurred in ways that our watersheds could handle. And New Jersey is not alone.

All across America, state and local governments, as well private landowners, are working to protect watersheds and educate people about the things they can do to protect the watersheds in which they live. This is another welcome step in the ongoing process of informing people of their obligations as stewards.

I also want to say just a few words about global climate change. I read with interest your recent statement on this important issue and I want to try to clarify a few issues.

I want to make it clear that President Bush takes the challenge of global climate change very seriously. He believes, as do I, that the United States should work constructively with our friends and allies through international processes to develop technologies, market-based incentives, and other innovative approaches to global climate change.

My predecessor once removed – former EPA head and current chairman of the World Wildlife Fund, William Reilly – had an interesting and thought-provoking op-ed piece on this question in last Sunday’s New York Times. I hope you had a chance to read it. He suggested what he called a “conservative way to reduce carbon dioxide,” which includes working in partnership with United States businesses to achieve reductions in greenhouse emissions in this country.

It’s worth noting that voluntary efforts to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases are already having a positive impact. The most recent available data show that the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions has actually begun to decline, even during a time of strong economic growth.
This reduction in the rate of growth has been accomplished, not because the heavy hand of government ordered it, but because government and business have are working as partners to effect these reductions. Through the promotion of more efficient energy practices and the broader use of renewable energy, voluntary efforts are making a difference.

Over the years, environmental issues have often inflamed political passions. I believe, however, that part of my effort to build partnership must including working with both sides of the aisle to achieve environmental victories. One area where I am hopeful we will see an early bipartisan legislative win is on brownfields reform.

Too many of our urban landscapes are marred by the presence of brownfields. These, abandoned commercial sites, such as old gas stations or warehouses, lie empty. Why? Largely because government has erected regulatory barriers that make any reclamation effort difficult at best.

A bill has approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that will go a long way to making it easier for local and state governments to turn these environmental eyesores into community assets. This legislation will remove many of the roadblocks that have kept brownfields from blossoming again. The bill is gaining strong bipartisan support – more 60 cosponsors have signed on.

The Administration looks forward to working with Congress to enact brownfields reform legislation this year. No matter what your political affiliation, this is a goal we can all agree on.

I sincerely hope that in the coming months and years, we will be able to build a strong partnership – one that honors our shared commitment to our environment. I also hope you will continue to keep me apprised of your views on important issues facing my Agency, as well as your ideas and suggestions on how we can better work together.

As partners, we can do so much for this great and beautiful country of ours. I look forward to working with you to reach our common goals – goals that reflect the values we share as stewards of our environment.

Thank you.