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National Congress of American Indians Executive Council

                         Carol M. Browner

Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Congress of American Indians Executive Council

                         Washington, D.C.

                      Prepared for Delivery
                       February 26, 1996

I want to thank Ron Allen for that introduction. It is a pleasure to be able to join you today. It is a particular pleasure for me to have the opportunity to meet with representatives of cultures that have long recognized the interconnectedness of human beings and the natural world -- the air, the water, and the land.

Twenty-five years ago, the people of this country joined together to say: "We must stop the pollution. We must save our air, our water, our land, our children's future."

In the past 25 years, we have made significant progress. We no longer have rivers catching on fire, as we once did. Our skies are cleaner. We've protected millions of children from lead poisoning.

Under President Clinton's leadership, we have continued that proud history of progress. Today, 50 million more Americans are breathing cleaner air -- air that meets public health standards.

This Administration has cleaned up more toxic waste sites than in the previous 12 years of the program.

We have expanded the public's right to know about toxic chemicals released in their neighborhoods.

We have moved aggressively to control hazardous waste incineration and improve the safety of our drinking water.

Under the President's leadership, we have cut red tape for honest business owners -- but we have vigorously pursued those who ignore environmental standards, polluting the public's air and water. We have collected the biggest fines in history.

And under the President's leadership, this Administration has a firm commitment to uphold the sovereignty of tribal nations and to deal with tribes government-to-government.

At EPA, we have developed a strong action plan to implement that commitment. And ten days ago, we announced that even if we are forced to operate with the limited budget that Congress has proposed for this year, we will nonetheless keep our tribal grant funding at the full level that the President has requested for FY96.

The President requested $15 million for general assistance to tribes -- the highest amount allowed by law -- up from $8.5 million for the last fiscal year. Even if we are forced to operate at the significantly lower level of funding proposed by Congress for the remainder of this year, we plan to spend that $15 million on tribal grants.

We also plan to spend the full $5 million on tribal grants to reduce air pollution -- up from $1 million last year.

And we expect to continue to make tribal grants a priority in next year's budget as well.

But make no mistake: the Republican leadership's budget means less clean air, dirty water, and environmental protection by triage.

Last spring, President Clinton said he would not be a party to a rollback of public health and environmental protection. And he has stood by that commitment. He promised to use his veto pen, and he has done so. He rejected the EPA budget put forward by the Republican leadership because it would not allow us to protect the health of the American people.

Their budget would cut environmental protection by 23 ompared with the President's
budget. They would cut standard-setting, enforcement, toxic waste cleanup, and funding to protect drinking water and keep raw sewage out of our rivers and off our beaches.

These are not abstract effects -- problems that can be overcome in the future. They are now. They are real.

President Clinton believes, as I do, that we cannot go back. Our commitment cannot waver. The responsibility is still ours -- and will always be -- to manage responsibly the natural resources upon which life depends.

When we hear that an elderly person cannot take her daily walk because the air pollution is so bad that she might get sick -- we say, Not in America. Yet right here in America, one in three people lives in an area where the air does not meet federal health standards.

The President's plan keeps the environmental cop on the beat and make sure our air is protected.

With all the problems people have to worry about, a mother should not have to worry about her child climbing over a fence into toxic waste that was dumped there 20 years ago. Not in America. Yet one in four Americans still lives near a toxic waste dump. And many tribes struggle with contamination from abandoned mines and mills. The Republican budget would tell communities across this country, "No, we won't clean up that site." The President's budget will continue to speed cleanup and redevelopment.

When we hear that people have fallen sick from drinking the water that comes out of their tap, we think -- Not in America. But it does happen in America. Across this country, 30 million people are served by drinking water systems that violated public health standards in the past year.

Forty percent of our rivers, lakes, and streams are too polluted for fishing and swimming -- a major concern for tribes whose members eat significant amounts of fish.

The President's plan will provide money to local communities to help improve drinking water systems and keep pollution out of our rivers and beaches. The Republican budget will deny millions of dollars to communities to protect our water.

The Republican leadership is seeking not only to cut back the environmental budget but to change environmental laws. Their proposals would reduce the role of Indian tribes as stewards of the environment.

We have seen proposals to amend the Clean Water Act, to take away tribal authority to safeguard the waters on your reservations. The Clinton Administration opposes those proposals. We strongly support tribal authority to protect your waters.

We have seen proposals to amend our pesticide law, to limit tribal authority to regulate pesticide use on tribal land. The Clinton Administration opposes those proposals. We strongly support tribal authority to protect your health and your environment by regulating pesticide use on tribal land.

The governors have issued a new policy stating that they are concerned over the impact of tribal environmental decisions on the states. The Clinton Administration strongly believes that Indian tribes should maintain their long-recognized jurisdiction over activities on reservation lands. We stand ready to promote cooperation between states and tribes, so that all citizens can have clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, safe land to live one.

If there is one message I want to convey to you today, it is that we must continue to work together, to ensure that your communities are protected and the voices of your communities are heard. To ensure that protection of public health remains a strong, unswerving goal, even in the face of those who would weaken that protection.

I would ask all of us to remember that protecting our environment is about protecting where we live and how we live. Let us join together to protect our health, our economy, and our communities -- so all of us and our children and our grandchildren can enjoy a healthy and a prosperous life. Thank you.