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National Summit on Investment in the New American City, Washington, D.C.

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at the
United States Conference of Mayors
National Summit on Investment in the New American City
Washington, D.C.

April 5, 2001

Thank you for that introduction. It = s great to be here with America = s mayors.

When I was governor of New Jersey, I used to say I had the best job in America. When I think of all the mayors I have known, I have to say I think you have the hardest job in America.

Mayors are on the front lines every day. You get the calls when the trash isn = t picked up, or the neighborhood playground needs new swings, or the cherry blossoms haven= t bloomed when they were supposed to.

You are the people who are expected to solve every problem right away, while also finding time to attend every block party, every civic club luncheon, and every neighborhood meeting, no matter what else might be on your schedule.

There = s no doubt about it, your jobs are tough. But I also think they = re very rewarding. As the elected officials closest to the people, you have the greatest opportunity to improve the day-to-day quality of life of the people of your communities. You can make a real difference, every day, in the lives of those you serve. You can make things happen, and you do.

For nearly forty years now, Washington has also tried to play a role in improving America= s cities. Those efforts have met with mixed success. Too often, the federal government came into America = s states and communities acting as if it alone knew what problems they faced and what solutions were warranted. I learned a little bit about that approach during my time as governor of New Jersey.

Of course, it = s true B Washington can be a valuable ally B but only so long as it is willing to make you a valued partner. That is at the heart of what the Bush administration is all about B making government more citizen-centered, more focused on results, and, wherever possible, more market-based. This Administration wants to be your partner, not your boss. We want to work with you to make your cities better places in which to live, work, and raise a family.

Because you are on the front lines, I believe you know better than Washington does what your cities need. We honor that fundamental principle B that the government closest to the problem is often closest to the solution. We want to forge true partnerships B partnerships that will marry our resources with your knowledge of what the people you serve need.

Let me give you an illustration of what that principle means in practice in the Bush Administration.

Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining with Mayor (Marc) Morial of New Orleans and Mayor (Patrick) McCrory of Charlotte to announce your group = s endorsement of the brownfields bill recently introduced in the Senate B a bill that the Administration will be working very closely with Congress to enact into law.

This important bill will make it easier for all of you to cleanup brownfields in your communities because it will give you the tools you need to get the job done. It will remove barriers that have been put in your way. It will, in short, make us true partners in pursuit of a common goal B transforming environmental eyesores into community assets.

There are, of course, some in Washington who don = t think local leaders can do the job right unless a federal official is there to supervise every step of the way. This Administration believes otherwise B and I believe a solid majority of the Congress does as well.

I am enthusiastic about what this legislation can mean for America = s cities because I = ve seen what brownfields reform has done in cities in my home state, New Jersey.

When I was governor, we did at the state level for brownfields much of what this legislation will do at the federal level. We gave mayors the tools, and let them go to work B and the results have been remarkable.

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, for example, a 166-acre landfill was transformed into the Jersey Gardens Mall, triggering more than $200 million in private investment, generating $5 million in new tax revenue, and creating 5,000 jobs.

In Holmdel, New Jersey, the site of an abandoned Dixie Cups plant will soon contain an office building, a 20-store retail center, and more than 250 adult and assisted living housing units.

But what we can do at the state and local level isn = t enough. Despite the best efforts of state and local leaders, thousands of brownfield sites across America remain fallow. These sites hold enormous potential for economic redevelopment coupled with environmental restoration. We need to match the best efforts of state and local governments with similar effort here in Washington.

That= s what we are working with Congress to achieve. And when brownfield legislation passes the Congress and the President signs it into law, we will see success stories blossom all over America.

I = m focusing on brownfields legislation today because that = s something we = re working on right now B and I want you to know how much we appreciate your ongoing efforts to support it. But brownfields is not an isolated case.

All across the board at EPA we will be working to build the kind of partnerships I= ve been speaking about, not just with you, but with the business community, with environmental groups, and with others.

Whether it is working to protect our watersheds, coming together to clean our air, or doing more to protect our land, I believe the EPA needs to find the partners who can help us get it done more effectively and efficiently than if we go it alone. The days when command and control from Washington was the only way EPA did business are over. The President has set us on a new course, a course that will bring us together in pursuit of common environmental goals.

When I was governor in New Jersey, I used to say that my state was only as strong as its cities. I believe the same is true of America. Over the course of our nation= s history, America = s cities have been vibrant centers of culture and enterprise, learning and progress, innovation and advancement. Our cities have greatly enriched both the American way of life and the American spirit.

For most of our history, our cities thrived B and occasionally suffered B on their own, without too much help from Washington. More recently, the opposite has been true. There = s very little these days Washington doesn = t have a hand in. For too long, it = s been the heavy hand of government, telling you what to do and how to do it. It= s time Washington relaxed its grip and instead joined hands with you as partners.

This Administration is ready to work with you to build the New American City this summit envisions. From where I stand, the New American City is one whose citizens can breathe cleaner air, whose children can drink purer water, and whose green spaces are better protected and preserved. I know that = s just part of your larger vision, but it = s the part I can work with you to achieve.

So as you conclude this meeting later today and go back home, do so knowing that next time someone comes up to you and says, A I = m from Washington and I = m here to help you," you're not on Candid Camera, you = re being given an invitation to partnership B an invitation I hope you = ll accept.

Thank you.