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The Local Government Advisory Committee, Washington, D.C.

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at the
Local Government Advisory Committee
Washington, D.C.

June 7, 2001

Thank you, Ed (Krenik), for that introduction. I’m glad you will have the chance to get to know Ed during this meeting. He is a very effective voice from me to you and from you to me and I am very pleased that he agreed to leave Capitol Hill and join me at the EPA.

I want to begin by thanking each of you for your service on this important committee. As a former county official and governor, I am a strong advocate for local government. I believe that more often than not, those closest to a problem are also closest to finding a solution. This Administration knows that not all wisdom resides in Washington – except, perhaps today, with all of you here in our Nation’s Capital for this meeting.

I know how much time and energy it takes for you to serve on this committee. The work back home doesn’t stop piling up just because you’re away. The family obligations don’t go on hiatus. But as the saying goes, when you want something done, ask a busy person. This certainly applies to you. I appreciate your willingness to serve.

I also appreciate the work you are doing to complete the merger of the Small Community Subcommittee and the Local Government Advisory Subcommittee. Going through a merger like this is rarely easy, but I’m sure that at the end of the day you will find you’re able to be even more effective advocates for local government, and that’s the most important thing.

It’s hard to believe that it’s just four months since the Bush Administration took office and since I started my work at the EPA. In that time, we have been busy getting fully up to speed, identifying the problems we face, and seeking new ideas and new approaches to addressing America’s environmental challenges.

Earlier this week, President Bush announced in Florida his outline for what he calls A New Environmentalism for the 21st Century. The main goal of his New Environmentalism is improving the relationship between the federal government and state and local communities in pursuit of our shared goal of responsible environmental stewardship.

The President recognizes that partnerships are the keys to addressing the next generation of environmental challenges in America. It is not enough to give lip service to the idea of partnership. Washington has to really work to build true partnerships that recognize the contributions local governments have to make as well as the responsibility we have to help you meet your own responsibilities.

We have already started our work toward this end. For example, my decision to request a further review of a proposed new standard for arsenic in drinking water was in part driven by my desire to ensure that we were not imposing an economically unattainable standard on local water companies. I also wanted to make sure that we had given local communities sufficient time to share with us their concerns about the proposed new standard. Make no mistake, we are going to improve water quality by lowering acceptable levels for arsenic in drinking water to a safer level. But we are going to make sure we do so in partnership with those most effected.

There’s no doubt in my mind that local issues and locally driven responses are key to building a sustainable long-term environmental ethos across America. A few weeks ago I traveled to eastern Kentucky with Congressman Hal Rogers to see a program he has developed called Project PRIDE. This program has mobilized hundreds of volunteers across the region to cleanup areas despoiled by dumping into lakes, rivers, and streams, out of the way hollows, and other places.

Kentucky PRIDE shows just how important local efforts are to environmental protection. By getting people involved and active, environmentally sound practices take hold and environmentally sound policy becomes law.

It also shows the wide array of environmental challenges that exist from place to place. In eastern Kentucky, for example, few localities offer regular trash pickup. In my home state, that’s not a problem we face – we have our own sets of problems. But it’s the lack of trash pickup that helped contribute to the dumping problem that Project PRIDE is helping to clean-up. It’s a local problem with a local solution – and can be a model for similar efforts all around America.

The President’s budget contains several new initiatives that signal the New Environmentalism. It includes $25 million in grant money to help state and local enforcement efforts. Every year, the federal government only performs about 5 percent of the Nation’s environmental enforcement inspections and takes just 10 percent of the enforcement actions. This grant money will help provide additional resources to those who do the bulk of the work and achieve the majority of the results.

The President’s budget also increases funding for brownfields cleanup by $5 million. The cleanup of brownfields is so clearly a challenge best left to local and state governments. They know best what areas need attention and what new uses are most appropriate for the specific locations.

That is why we are also working to enact comprehensive brownfields reform legislation – legislation that will give your communities the tools and authority they need to restore these environmental eyesores to productive use. The Senate has passed a bill in a 99-to-nothing vote. We are working for House action on similar legislation.

Of course, the danger Washington policy makers always face is becoming captive to “Inside the Beltway” thinking. Having spent all of my public service career outside of Washington, I don’t expect to become infected by Potomac Fever. But it’s always helpful to have a group such as yours to ensure that the individual community perspective is always brought to the table in our national policy making efforts.

I have read with great interest the report you issued last fall recommending a series of steps the Agency can take to build the communications network between the EPA and local governments. I will be giving Terr Caldwell-Johnson a detailed written report, but want to briefly summarize for you what is in it.

I believe your suggestions as to things the Agency can do to nurture stronger local government relationships are on target. Those ideas will help us carry out the important work of engaging every community in efforts to preserve and protect the environment.

I also believe that your strategy for enhanced liaison makes sense, as do your recommendations for building a more mature and robust environment for cooperative management and your consultation recommendations.

I have asked various organizations within EPA to get back to me with their ideas on how best to implement your recommendations. I look forward to the increased communications between Washington and local governments that these recommendations will help produce.

Of course, there are several other recommendations still outstanding from other topics you have reported on since last fall. We will continue to review them and will let you know just as soon as we’re ready how we plan to proceed.

Finally, there are several issues I hope you’ll give some thought to in the weeks and months ahead – issues about which I would like to have the benefit of your thinking. Let me go through them.

First, I would like your thinking on what key environmental challenges are facing local governments today – besides the perennial need for more money.

Next, I’d like you to develop a list of the EPA practices currently in effect that make local government’s management of environmental activities more difficult than it needs to be.

Third, with respect to the FY 2003 budget – which is already being prepared – I’d like to know what your three top priorities are for funding.

Finally, I’d be interested in knowing how you believe both EPA and the states should judge the performance of environmental programs and activities.

These are areas where your input will be very valuable to me and our management team as we lay-out our priorities for the coming months and years. I hope you will have the opportunity to give them some thought.

I am very pleased we have this opportunity today to get to know one another. As I said at the outset, I am someone who has an enormous appreciation for the challenges you face and the work you do. Serving in local government is, in many ways, the hardest job in government. After all, no one calls a Cabinet officer to complain that the snow hasn’t been plowed yet, or the trash hasn’t been picked up, or that the playground swings are broken.

But, in at least as many ways, you also have the most rewarding jobs in government. You have the greatest ability, on an almost daily basis, to affect for the better the lives of the people you serve. The fruits of your labors truly make your communities better places in which to live, work, and raise a family, and that, in and of itself, is a great reward.

So thank you for your service on this committee. I appreciate your willingness to help this Agency meet its mission of protecting our environment and the public health.

Thank you.