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Executive Women in Government Reception, Washington, D.C.

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
at the
Executive Women in Government Reception
Green Room
Washington, D.C.

April 10, 2003

Thank you Linda (Massaro) for that introduction. As a woman in politics, I believe strongly that all of us have a responsibility to increase the representation of women in government and encourage future women leaders. This is an area where the Executive Women in Government program excels. By providing talented women with the tools and resources they need, you are helping the next generation of women succeed in the pursuit of their careers and goals.

That is why I appreciate the opportunity to address this distinguished group and to talk about the work we are doing here at EPA to protect children = s health. Every American is affected by the quality and health of our environment; however our youngest members of society are particularly vulnerable to environmental hazards. As children develop, they need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and safe food to eat in order to ensure that they grow healthy and strong. Making sure that they have these things is a top priority at EPA. From safe drinking water to the use of pesticides, there is a wide range of issues that impact children =s health.

I would like to focus on the two issues that are the most prevalent and the most damaging to children B asthma and lead poisoning. As many of you may know, asthma has grown to epidemic proportions in our country. Over 6 million children under the age of 18 suffer from asthma B a number that has doubled over the past two decades. Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism B accounting for 14 million missed school days a year nationwide, and it is one of the leading causes of hospitalization for children under the age of 15. While we do not know all the causes of asthma, we do know that air pollution can make asthma worse.

That is why this Administration = s work to improve outdoor air quality, especially the President = s Clear Skies Act, will have a direct impact on children suffering from asthma. Clear Skies is the most significant improvement to the Clean Air Act in more than a decade and the most aggressive proposal any Administration has ever made to reduce emissions from power plants. Clear Skies will achieve mandatory reductions of 70% of three of the most dangerous pollutants emitted by power plants B nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury. We will remove 35 million more tons of these pollutants from the air over the first ten years of Clear Skies than the current Clean Air Act would achieve in that same time frame.

This will provide dramatic health benefits to the American people every year, including preventing 12,000 premature deaths and reducing by 15 million the days when sufferers of asthma and other respiratory illnesses are unable to work, go to school, or carry out their normal day to day activities because of bad air quality. The President has made it clear that signing this bill into law is one of his top domestic priorities, and that is because Clear Skies is a clear win for the American people B especially for our children with asthma.

Earlier this week, EPA announced our new Clean School Bus USA initiative B a program designed to improve the health of our children by improving the pollution performance of their school buses. Our goal is to ensure that by 2010, every public school bus on the road is a clean school bus that uses cleaner fuel or new technology to reduce emissions.

It = s also important to point out that though most of us think of outdoor air when we think of air pollution, indoor air pollution can be just as harmful. That is why EPA is working to ensure greater indoor air quality through programs such as Tools for Schools and the National Asthma Awareness campaign, which help school officials and parents identify indoor environmental triggers.

In addition, we are also working in partnership with organizations such as the American Lung Association to lead a smoke-free home initiative. From Clear Skies to indoor air efforts, reducing the number of children who suffer from asthma is one of the top priorities of the Environmental Protection Agency and this Administration. To support this effort, the President has requested a $3 million increase in his FY 04 budget to combat children = s asthma B raising total funding to $23.9 million.

In addition to asthma, lead poisoning is another major environmental health concern for children. Children with lead poisoning suffer from learning disabilities, brain damage, and other physical problems. Over the past two decades, we have made significant progress in reducing the risk of lead poisoning. In 1978, there were between three and four million children with elevated blood lead levels in the U.S. Today, that number has been reduced significantly. Despite this progress, hundreds of thousands of children are still suffering needlessly, because lead poisoning is entirely preventable.

Our goal is to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by 2010. In order to meet that goal, we are redoubling our efforts to reach families and communities about the dangers of lead exposure and educate them about the simple steps that can be taken to prevent it. Whether lead poisoning or asthma, we have integrated our focus on children across every sector of our Agency, which is helping to raise awareness and discover new and comprehensive ways to combat these diseases.

Of course, protecting children = s health is not the work of just one Agency. EPA, along with HHS, helps lead a Children= s Health Task Force that includes 15 government agencies. Through this task force, we have developed federal strategies for asthma and lead, started a project to address environmental hazards in our schools, and initiated the celebration of Children = s Health Month. EPA continues to work closely with our federal partners to ensure that our individual efforts are coordinated and successful in helping us reach our overall shared goal of greater health for our children.

I know that those of you here today are representing many different federal agencies, and I want to encourage you to look for new partnership opportunities and new ideas within your own agencies that can have a positive impact for children. EPA is the guardian of our nation = s resources, and there is no greater resource than our children.

Protecting the health of our children in the present will ensure the strength and security of our country in the future. All of us, government and individual alike, have a responsibility to make sure that future is one filled with health, hope, and promise. Thank you.