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Women's Leadership Summit, Washington, D.C.

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
at the
National Women’s Leadership Summit
Washington, DC

May 14, 2002

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be with you today.

I would like to thank Kay (Bailey Hutchinson) for organizing this Summit. The challenge of increasing the participation of women in the leadership of America is an important one – and Kay is just the right person to take it on. She’s a respected and effective U.S. senator who is sensitive to the issues women face in public service – just what we need in our leaders today.

As I look across this room, I am inspired to see such a gathering of women from across the country who hold prominent positions in their own communities. By establishing a strong base at the local level, we are building a network across the country that will ultimately create greater opportunities for all.

Which leads us to one of the questions we are considering today, “How do we get even more women into positions of political leadership in America?” There are three major ways I believe we can each make a difference: as mentors, as role models, and as leaders.

First, we have to be mentors.

We women don’t have an “old boys” network – and I’m not suggesting we establish an “old girls” network – at least not by that name. But we do need to be intentional about opening doors to capable women whenever we can.

I am happy to say that President Bush has set an excellent example. I am one of four women in the President’s cabinet – serving with Gail Norton at Interior, Ann Veneman at Agriculture, and Elaine Chao at Labor. And there are more women in senior positions in this White House than in any other Administration in America’s history.

As I have made my way in public office, I have worked to provide new opportunities to the talented women I know and who have come to my attention. I’m proud that as New Jersey’s governor, I appointed the first woman to serve as a governor’s chief of staff, the first to serve as attorney general, and the first to serve as chief justice of my state’s Supreme Court.

And if you were to come to one of my weekly senior staff meetings in Washington, you’d notice more women around the table than men. My deputy administrator, my chief of staff, my deputy chief of staff, and many of my assistant administrators are women – very talented women. There are a few men around the table too – I do believe in equal opportunity – but the majority are women, and that’s not a coincidence.

I also think we need to be conscious about being role models.

One of the things I really enjoyed doing every year when I was governor was speaking to Girls State, a program run by the American Legion Auxiliary to encourage civic leadership skills among high school girls and help them build the confidence to pursue their goals, in any field of endeavor.

But it’s more important that they see women leaders acting with integrity, strength, independence, and resolve. They need to see the vision that drives ambition, the purpose that warrants sacrifice.

And they also need to see that women can lead – and that as leaders, we possess a unique set of experiences and perspectives that differentiate us from male leaders. Women do bring a different approach to problem solving. We need to recognize and honor that. Women tend to be more open in the way they make decisions. We are usually more willing to reach across traditional boundaries to forge solutions.

These skills are needed at every level in public life, both for the diversity they bring and the balance they provide. But these skills are not, by themselves, enough, especially as women seek to move to the next levels of leadership.

To reach the top, women leaders also need to be tough when the situation demands. Let me be clear – when I say “tough,” I don’t mean, “like men.” I’m talking about the kind of toughness that strong women have always possessed – the toughness that comes from a calm self-assurance, a steady faith in one’s abilities, and a firm reliance on one’s inner strengths.

When we talk about issues where women have engaged in the political process and worked hard to make a difference, two that come to mind are the health of our families and the health of our environment. These issues affect each of us as leaders, as citizens, and as individuals. And there are actions each one of us can take to help make our air cleaner, our water purer, and our land better protected.

So I’d like to talk to you briefly about the President’s number one priority for the environment, the Clear Skies Initiative. As women leaders who have the ability – and the drive – to make a difference, I ask you to take the President’s Clear Skies message back to your communities.

Clear Skies will dramatically cut air pollution by nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury by 70 percent, using a mandatory, market-based approach – similar to the successful cap and trade system of the acid rain program.

Clear Skies will bring America much closer to reaching the Clean Air Standards over the next decade than the current Clean Air Act. And it does this, not by replacing the Clean Air Act – it doesn’t – but by enhancing it.

Clear Skies will save tens of thousands of children from asthma, prevent thousands of premature deaths from respiratory illnesses caused by these pollutants, as well as restore miles of clear, open vistas at national parks and other scenic places around America.

But Clear Skies is just one part of our effort to make America’s air cleaner. In February, the President also announced a new climate change policy that will reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the U.S. economy by 18% over the next 10 years. Meeting this commitment is the same as taking 70 million (or 1 out of 3) cars off the road.

I’m also pleased that last week the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld EPA's rule to make heavy_duty trucks and buses run cleaner. The regulation requires reduced emissions from diesel trucks and buses and lower sulfur levels in diesel fuel.

Once these rules come into effect, all Americans will receive significant health and environmental benefits from the dramatic cuts in air pollution released from these large trucks and buses. We estimate that some 8,300 premature deaths and more than 360,000 asthma attacks in children will be avoided every year.

You may have noticed that when we talk about the benefits of EPA’s actions, we specifically focus on children’s health. At EPA, protecting children from environmental health risks is fundamental to our vision of making the world a better place for future generations.

Like all of us, children need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and safe food to eat. They are not little adults - they are more vulnerable physically, and we need to take special care to protect their health. Since children’s voices are rarely heard in the policy process, they must depend upon the tireless advocacy of others like you.

So, as you leave this Summit and head back to the work at hand, I urge you to continue your important pursuits in your neighborhoods, businesses, governments, corporations – and, of course, families.

Together, I believe we can continue to move America forward. The benefits will be enormous – a world that is cleaner, healthier, and safer for our children and our grandchildren.

Thank you.