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Physicians for Social Responsibility-Washington, D.C.

Carol M. Browner, Administrator U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Remarks Prepared for Delivery Physicians for Social Responsibility-Washington, D.C.
            May 2, 1998

     I am very pleased to be able to join Bob Musil here today and to thank him for all he has done.  

     I also want to recognize Phil Landrigan and say what a pleasure it has been to work with him. I appointed him last year to run EPA's Office of Children's Health Protection. I thank Phil for all he has done to help us move forward in protecting the health of all the children of this country.  

     Let me also take this opportunity to thank your organization for a generation of leadership in making our country and our world a safer place.

     From the early days when your organization warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons, to your work to make our drinking water safe from pollution, our air safe from toxic chemicals -- you have been a critical force in protecting our environment and the public's health.  

     Our air, our water, our communities are safer today thanks to your activism, your advocacy, your expertise, and most importantly, your passionate concern.

     On behalf of EPA and the American people, I cannot thank you enough.  

     Over the past quarter-century, with your help, this nation has made great progress in protecting public health and the environment.

     We no longer have rivers catching on fire.  Bodies of water that used to be virtual sewage dumps are now vital, thriving places where people swim and fish.  Others are on the rebound.

     Toxic pollution from industry has declined.  Fewer children are poisoned by lead.

     Our skies are cleaner.  In city after city, the air is healthier to breathe.  In the years ahead, we will continue to make progress on clean air, because President Clinton has shown the courage to stand up for the public interest and ensure that our air quality standards are strong enough to protect the public health.

     The new, updated air quality standards that the President announced last summer represent the most important step this nation has taken in a generation to protect the American people -- and especially our children -- from the health hazards of air pollution.

     Together, they will protect 125 million Americans, including 35 million children, from the adverse health effects of breathing polluted air.  Each year, they will prevent approximately 15,000 premature deaths, about 350,000 cases of aggravated asthma and nearly a million cases of significantly decreased lung function in children.

     This is real public health protection, a real investment in the health of all Americans.  And I want to thank you for your hard work to make these standards a reality.  

     But the job is not done.  We cannot rest.  

     To meet the challenges that face us today, this administration is forging a new generation of environmental and public health protection -- standards that are second to none, vigorous enforcement of those standards, and giving the American people the tools to reduce pollution in their own communities.

     Many of today's most pressing public health challenges are those that involve the most vulnerable among us -- our children.

     We all know that children, because their bodies and minds are still developing, are more susceptible than adults to environmental threats.  Proportionate to body weight, they eat more of certain types of food, drink more fluids, and breathe more air than adults do.  The young ones crawl on the floor or the ground -- the older ones spend more time outdoors -- and, thus, children are often more exposed to potentially harmful pollutants.

     The world that our children are born into includes tens of thousands of new chemicals.

     Asthma deaths among children and young people more than doubled between 1980 and 1993.  Asthma is now the leading cause of hospital admissions for children.

     Despite the welcome news that lead poisoning in children continues its steady decline, there are still nearly a million kids under five years of age who suffer high levels of lead in their blood.

     I know I don't need to convince you that tobacco use among our young people is a public health crisis.  The Administration will continue to take strong action to stop the marketing of this addictive drug to our children.  And at EPA, we will continue our efforts to inform families of the enormous health consequences posed by smoking around young children. Twenty seven percent of the country's children live in a house where one or more adults smoke. No adult, no parent, should smoke around their young child.

     We have a responsibility to protect those who are the most vulnerable in our society.  And in so doing, we protect not only our children, but future generations.  Not only the most vulnerable, but all people.

     To this end, President Clinton has directed all federal agencies to make protection of children's health and safety a high priority in all that we do.

     Two years ago, EPA began to take steps to ensure that an awareness of children s unique susceptibility will guide every action we take to protect public health and our environment.  

     Every action to protect the quality of our food -- every action to protect the safety of our drinking water -- every action to remove the dangers of lead from our environment -- every rule --
every standard -- will have to meet that tough requirement:  that we protect the health of our children.

    The Office of Children's Health Protection that I established, under the leadership of Dr. Landrigan, is dedicated to guiding these efforts -- linking the best, current science with the policy process -- coordinating research -- stimulating cooperative efforts among all who are concerned with children's environmental health.  

     Perhaps most important of all, that office is promoting greater public awareness and involvement -- because this Administration firmly believes that putting information into the hands of citizens is one of the most effective things we can do to protect our health and our environment.  

     Nowhere is this more true than in our efforts to reduce harmful pollution through our Right to Know program, beyond a doubt one of this nation's most effective environmental efforts.

     Since 1988, when industry began to report to the public about toxic chemicals released into our communities, those industrial facilities have reduced their emissions by almost half.

     Under the leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, this Administration has greatly expanded the right to know.  We doubled the number of chemicals that must be reported.  We increased by 30 percent the number of facilities that must report to the public.  We increased enforcement of the law.  Community by community, more public reporting is now required from thousands of industrial facilities.

     Last month, I joined the Vice President in announcing a major expansion of the American people's right to know.  We launched three important new initiatives that increase right to know, by ensuring that industry will conduct testing for the 3,000 chemicals most widely used in this country; by requiring comprehensive testing of chemicals that our children are disproportionately exposed to; and by ensuring reporting on persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals.  

     These are three important new tools that American communities can use to join together and build a safer, healthier world to pass on to our children.

     But no effort to build a safer, healthier world can be effective unless we address the challenge of global warming.    

     More than 2,000 of the world's leading climate scientists tell us that, for the first time in history, pollution from human activities is changing the earth's climate.

     Modern industrial activity -- particularly the burning of fossil fuels -- is filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases," which trap the sun's heat and cause the gradual warming of the Earth's surface temperatures.

     The global average surface temperature is now a full degree Fahrenheit higher than it was at the beginning of this century -- and it may rise another two to six degrees over the next century.

     As a result, scientists say we will see more frequent and more intense heat waves, causing thousands more heat-related deaths.

     Severe droughts and floods will become more common. Infectious diseases like malaria will expand their range.

     Agriculture will suffer.  The oceans will rise, perhaps by several feet over the next century -- swamping many coastal areas, including my home town of Miami.

     The time has come to act.

     President Clinton and Vice President Gore have committed this country to make significant cuts in the pollution that contributes to global warming -- by harnessing the ingenuity of American businesses to develop and market common sense, cost-effective technologies.  

     The President's plan commits $6.3 billion over five years to promote energy efficiency and clean energy technologies -- including $3.6 billion in tax cuts to reward homeowners and businesses that choose energy-efficient cars, energy-efficient homes, energy-efficient appliances and equipment.

     But unfortunately, while the President is taking important steps to meet the challenge of global warming in ways that make both economic and environmental sense, the naysayers are on the march.

     The New York Times reports that some in industry are prepared to fund a massive disinformation campaign attempting to portray the fight against global warming as a loser for America.  

     A budget resolution has passed in the Senate that slashes funding for our efforts to address global warming and other urgent public health and environmental challenges.

     Not only would this resolution stymie our efforts to deal with global warming by cutting support for energy efficiency and renewable energy. It also would delay toxic waste cleanups and hamper our ability to clean up our rivers, lakes, and streams.  

     The House recently passed legislation to weaken penalties for companies that violate environmental laws and to give polluters new rights to sue.  We're seeing proposals in Congress to roll back the clean air standards.  Proposals to put cost considerations before public health.

     All of these proposals fly in the face of America's history.
     Go back and check the record.  Whenever this nation has taken action to improve public health -- whenever we've passed landmark legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act -- whenever we have done the right thing and put the public health first -- we have done so in the face of dire warnings of economic disaster.  

     And over the past 25 years, not one of those dire economic predictions has come to pass.  Not one.  

     Today, we have the strongest protections in history, and our economy is soaring.

     Yet there are those in Congress, those in industry, who are still committed to doing all that they can to oppose responsible, common sense steps to protect public health and the environment.

     And that is why all of us who are passionately committed to protecting the public's health must continue to stand together and stand tall.

     In closing, let me say that as physicians who see your responsibility as extending beyond the consulting room or the operating table, all of you play a vital role.

     I urge you to continue playing that important role.

     And as you do, let me assure you that this administration is ready to walk that next mile with you toward a brighter, safer, healthier future for our children and for future generations.

     Thank you for all that you do.