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Urban Economic Development

Carol M. Browner, Administrator Environmental Protection Agency Remarks Prepared for Delivery Council for Urban Economic Development

                        Washington, D.C.
                         March 8, 1999
     Good afternoon. I'd like to thank Mayor Spencer for that introduction. John calls Yonkers a "city of vision." And part of that vision is the redevelopment of its waterfront area to make it a bustling center of community and commerce. At EPA, we were happy to share in this vision by awarding the city a $200,000 grant to help it redevelop the industrial area along the river so it can be returned it to productive and profitable use. Good luck with this John. I look forward to visiting someday and getting the grand tour.

     I'm pleased to be here at the Council for Urban Economic Development's Summit here in our nation's Capital.

     This conference offers an interesting juxtaposition for me.  Next week I go to Beijing to meet with Chinese officials on many of the same issues that concern everyone here in this room. How do we develop our urban areas, create jobs and still keep the environment healthy?

     Something struck me as I was preparing for this trip. I'm going to visit a city that has 3,000 years of history behind it. Three thousand years!

     That made me think of other cities, like Athens, London, Paris, or Rome -- and countless smaller towns and communities -- that were built in antiquity yet will thrive into the 21st Century.

     You know, the oldest community in the United States is St. Augustine in my home state of Florida. It was founded by the Spanish in 1565, so it's just 434 years old.

     What is it that allowed these ancient cities to remain vibrant on the cusp of a new millennium? When you look at their histories, there were no guarantees they were going to make it. Many didn't. Anyone tried to visit Troy lately?

     I think one of the reasons these urban areas continue to stand strong is that at crucial times, past societies confronted their problems and -- rather than ignore them -- decided to invest in a way that preserved their communities' histories, while accommodating the needs of an ever changing world.

     Well, I'm afraid that for too many years we did ignore our communities here in the United States and didn't strive hard enough to make them more livable. But since taking office, President Clinton and Vice President Gore have been working hard to turn this around. They realized we had reached a crucial moment in the history of our urban areas and we simply had to invest.

     Our brownfields program is cleaning up and revitalizing abandoned industrial properties in 227 communities around the country. This program has leveraged $1 billion in public and private funds, created thousands of new jobs and turned idle land back to productive and profitable use. And it has helped spare green spaces in nearby suburbs from the kind of development that swallowed up 4.3 million acres of our nation's prime and unique farmland in one 10-year span.

     We've also cleaned up nearly 585 Superfund toxic waste sites in the past six years. That's three times more Superfund clean ups than the previous administrations did in 12 years. And our goal is to clean up another 85 sites by the end of  2000.

     But there's more to do. We need to work even harder to make our urban areas more livable. The President and Vice President understand this and have proposed a plan that will take us into the future by rediscovering the joys of our past -- a past when cities and towns exerted a gravity that kept commerce and culture swirling nearby rather than hurtling ever outward.

     As part of this "livability" agenda outlined in his State of the Union address, President Clinton announced a new tool to revitalize life within our urban areas. This new tool is called Better America Bonds, a program in which EPA will take the lead in consultation with the Community Empowerment Board and other administration departments and agencies.

     Simply put, the Better American Bonds plan is the shortest law you could write to do the greatest amount of good. We're saying in the tax code that a community approved to issue Better America Bonds won't have to pay any interest on the bond and can wait 15 years before paying back the principal. This will free up almost $10 billion that our urban areas and other communities can use to invest in improving their quality of life. The federal government will pick up the tab on the interest by allowing lenders to claim a credit on their federal income tax return equal to the amount they would have earned on the bond.

     Could it be any easier?

     We'll be encouraging regional approaches. We want to see cities working with counties working with states to preserve wetlands, create forest buffers to protect water supplies, clean up brownfields, create parks -- or all those things together. It's very flexible.

     In fact, of all the local officials who have come to me asking -- "Could we do this with the bond? Could we do that with the bond? -- I've only had to say "no" to one mayor. He wanted to build a pool.

     But Better America Bonds are just one part of the Administration's "livability" agenda.

     There is also a large transportation investment -- $1.6 billion -- to reduce congestion, encourage transit and improve air quality. There will also be grants available to localities for "smart growth" planning.

     We simply have to do something to break the traffic gridlock that now snarls our commerce and commuters. You know, I saw a picture in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago that made me laugh. A child was strapped into a nice plush seat in a van with a drink at his side and a television set in front of him.

     Now, as a mother I've got to admit that is kind of a tempting plan. But, still, think about that image for a moment. Driving has become such a consuming and tedious experience that we are actually moving our living rooms into our vehicles!

     Okay, it's not quite that bad. But it's bad. A recent study said that drivers in certain urban areas waste the equivalent of one to two work weeks just sitting in traffic.

      In Washington, D.C. -- the most congested metropolitan area in the nation -- drivers lose 82 hours a year sitting idle in traffic jams.

     There is a human cost here. We're talking about two full working weeks, or more, that we do not get to spend with our families because we're stranded with strangers in traffic.

     But there's an economic cost as well. Drivers stuck in traffic wasted more than six billion gallons of fuel in 1996, according to a study by the Texas Transportation Institute. That's enough to fill 670,000 gasoline tank trucks or 134 super tankers.

     When you combine both the wasted time with the wasted fuel, the cost to the economy is almost $74 billion.

     Think of that -- $74 billion literally up in smoke. How many schools could we build or renovate with that money? How many college educations could we pay for?

     So this is what the President and Vice President's livability agenda is about. Helping our communities create a better quality of life for our working families, a better environment for business, and all the while protecting our health and preserving our natural wonders.

     And this program will not only help create jobs, it will help our urban areas retain them. Companies like to locate in livable areas because it's easier to attract and retain talented employees.
     Let me stress, this is not a radical "big government" plan. Last November, voters across the country  adopted more than 150 "green" state and local ballot initiatives. We are simply following their lead and taking their innovative thinking nationwide.

     We will not be creating planning police. We will not micromanage local decisions. And, under the Better America Bonds program, the federal government will not add a single square-inch of  land to its inventory. All purchases will be made by state and local governments.

     We know that all of our communities have different histories and will chart different futures. We're just offering tools to help them choose a path. We're not issuing orders on what path to follow.

     You know, I started off  talking about history and key decisions certain societies made that kept their communities on a path towards progress. Let me give you an example that I just learned and would like to share with you. In 310 B.C. the Romans set out on an ambitious plan to build aqueducts. The system they built supplied Rome with 38 million gallons of fresh water per day. On a per-capita basis, that would rival many modern cities.

     And do you know what? Some of them still work -- after more that 2,000 years, some of those aqueducts still work, providing water to the fountains of Rome. Wouldn't everyone in this room like to think that something you did in your lifetime would last to the year 4,000.

     Well, you can. Think about this for a minute. The people who got together to build the aqueducts would have been much like the people in this room today. There would have been government officials, engineers, trades people, and financial and logistical experts.

     A group of you here today could go back to your communities and start planning on how to take a brownfield and turn it into a park. And that park can last forever. The best thing about mother nature is that -- if cared for -- she has a nearly infinite design life.

     And hundreds of years from now, a family might be strolling through that park you helped build -- marveling at the tall stands of trees, and the well designed footpaths that lead to green open spaces where neighbors gather on a nice spring day. And they might walk by the dedication
marker that was placed there on the park's opening day and say: "Wow! They really knew how to build them back in the year 2000 didn't they. They were really thinking."

     This can be a legacy you leave not just in the new century -- now only 298 days away -- but to the century after that, and the century after, and on and on to the next millennium.

     We just want to help you build that legacy.

     Thank you.