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Dr. Martin Luther King Observance Westminster Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C.

Carol M. Browner, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Dr. Martin Luther King Observance
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C.

                        January 14, 1999

     Thank you Anne and thank you to the Office of Civil Rights and the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance for your terrific work putting this program together.

     Welcome all, and good morning.  It is a great pleasure to be here.

     Today, we gather to honor a great American -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

     We honor Dr. King for his vision, faith, and fortitude. He woke the American conscience. He opened blind eyes to grave injustices. He built -- against so many odds, against so many obstacles -- the moral consensus that led to the Civil Rights Act -- our national blueprint for freedom and equality.

     We honor Dr. King for his courage and his message of hope. On the streets of Montgomery, on the mall in Washington, even during the bleakest days in Birmingham -- he had hope and he had tremendous courage.

     We honor Dr. King for his dreams and passion -- passion to erase complacency, passion to right wrongs, passion to make those dreams come true and build a better world for all Americans.

     More than 30 years have passed since King's historic march on Washington.  For more than three decades, this nation has had the Civil Rights Act to guide us to greater opportunity and equality for all Americans.

     And we've made great progress. Certainly, we're a far cry from the days when taking a backseat on the bus really meant taking a backseat in American society. Today, we have greater equality in housing, education, jobs, and yes, environmental and public health protection.

     I am proud to serve in an administration that has made great strides for equality and opportunity.

     First, President Clinton has never shied away from talking about racial problems in this country. He has brought people together in a national dialogue and challenged every citizen to join him in making one America out of all our diversity.

     President Clinton expanded programs to ensure equal federal employment opportunities for all minorities, including people with disabilities. He issued an Executive Order to prevent discrimination against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in the federal workplace. He's improved daycare and given additional tax relief for working families. He's provided better job-training for poor youths, and more funding for fair housing.

     Just this week, the Vice President announced a brand new livability agenda to improve the quality of life in our communities -- new funding sources for public transportation, crime fighting, and redevelopment of inner cities. Under this program, EPA, in consultation with other federal agencies, will oversee Better America Bonds for communities that want to protect open space and drinking water quality and redevelop brownfields -- our cities' abandoned industrial properties.

     We've taken tremendous steps. But if he were alive, it is certain that Dr. King would say we still have far to go to reach the promised land of racial harmony and equal opportunity that he dreamed about. He would say that our work is far from done.

     At EPA, we can never rest as long as we know that some people suffer unfairly and unequally from pollution.

     African-Americans suffer from asthma at a rate of about 10 percent higher than whites, and they are more than two times more likely to die from it.

     Despite the tremendous strides we've made against childhood lead poisoning, we still have a million kids under six years old suffering from high levels of lead in their blood -- and four out of five are minority children, or economically disadvantaged.

     About 180,000 Hispanic children are farmworkers,  and every year up to 20,000 cases of acute pesticide poisoning are reported among both adult and children farmworkers. Many more cases go undiagnosed and untreated.

     And even though every year we make progress within our own ranks at EPA, we can still see that our workforce does not fully reflect American diversity.

     At EPA, we've worked hard for change. We've worked hard to ensure that every American community has water that is safe for drinking, streams safe for fishing, air that is healthy to breathe, and land free from toxic chemicals.

     We are committed to meet our obligations under the Civil Rights Act and address complaints from communities across the country who feel that their civil rights are being violated by exposure to disproportionate amounts of pollution. At EPA, we've proven, time and time again, that protection of our environment, our health, and our civil rights does not have to come at the cost of the opportunity to work and make a decent living.

     I want to thank each and every one of you for all that you have done to help provide the American people with a clean, safe, healthy environment, and all you have done to promote a more diverse workforce that sees our differences as crucial assets -- as plusses not minuses.

     But until every American -- regardless of race, culture, national origin, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation -- has an equal opportunity to prosper and live in a healthy environment, we cannot relax.

     So today, on Monday, and for all our days to come, let us remember and celebrate a great leader, a great visionary, a man who changed the world -- Dr. Martin Luther King. Let us commit in our own ways -- in our jobs and in our homes -- to a future where no person is left behind. Let us fulfill the dreams and visions of this legendary man.

     Arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, we can and we must work to give our children a better world, a healthier and happier world, a more just world.    Thank you.