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Press Briefing on the Center for Environmental Information and Statistics

Carol M. Browner, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery Press Briefing on the Center for Environmental Information and Statistics

                         Washington, DC
                         August 6, 1998

     Thank you Mr. Newlen.

     Welcome and thank you all for coming today to this important briefing.

     It is fitting that we gather today in the beautiful Martin Luther King library, this center of community life in our nation's capital named to honor a man who had great vision for a better future for our nation and our nation's communities. It is fitting because today we are going to tell you about a great step forward for neighborhoods across America -- a new right-to-know initiative from the Clinton-Gore Administration.

     This initiative is designed to give the American people -- for the first time ever -- one-stop access to information about the health and safety of the land upon which we all live, the air we breathe, and the water we drink community by community, state by state, and the nation as a whole.

     The right to know is a fundamental cornerstone of the Clinton Administration. We believe putting information into the hands of the American people is one of the best ways to protect public health and the environment. Give people the facts, and they can make intelligent, informed decisions about how to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.

     Our experience with the Toxic Release Inventory has borne out this philosophy. Ten years ago, this country began to require industrial facilities to report to their communities about the toxic chemicals they were releasing into the environment.  And that simple requirement has had an enormous benefit for the American people. In those facilities required to report to the public, toxic emissions have gone down by almost half without harming our economy. In fact, to the contrary, since the program began, our economy has soared.

    Well, we want more results like that.  This Administration has doubled the number of chemicals that must be reported -- and increased by 30 percent the number of facilities that have to report.

     In April, the Vice President took another step to expand the public's right to know -- a new initiative to give the public basic health information on the 3,000 chemicals most used in this country.

     The First Lady recently announced an important right-to-know tool that will help families day-to-day make decisions about how best to protect their children when smog levels are dangerously high and pose a threat to public health. Twenty two states and the District of Columbia have joined EPA to give people current information about smog levels in their communities -- a significant step we take to protect our children who suffer from asthma.

     Through the President's Food Quality Protection Act, we will provide, in grocery stores across the country, easy-to-understand, consumer-friendly information about pesticides and foods, and how people can reduce their exposure to pesticide residues.

     And soon, through the Safe Drinking Water Act, we will provide citizens what we call Consumer Confidence Reports. Every year, in their bills, citizens will receive easy-to-understand updates on the quality of tap water in their communities.

     All our right-to-know initiatives are great news for the American people. But they also present us with a challenge. Every year, we gather volumes of information about the environment in communities across the country -- literally thousands upon thousands of electronic pages of information stored in different databases.

     For the average citizen, and even the most experienced computer user, finding the information they need to protect their health and the environment in their communities can be a frustrating journey through the nation's data warehouses.

     For information about drinking water safety, a citizen might have to go to their local public works department.

     To find out if a local factory has permits to pollute, they might have to look to their state environmental agency.

     For toxic waste cleanup information, they might call their regional EPA office.

     All in all, a citizen might have to navigate a maze of up to 3 dozen databases to find all of the environmental and public health information that the government has about their communities.     That is the beauty of our new Center for Environmental Information and Statistics
website: For the first time -- we've compiled all this information into just one, single internet site.  

     Now, anyone with access to the Internet -- through a computer at home, work, or at a school or public library -- has the power to obtain -- in one easy-to-access place on the Internet -- vital environmental information about their community, state, as well as the whole nation.  

     The Center for Environmental Information and Statistics is a giant step forward in providing the American people with accurate, timely, and easy-to-understand, easy-to-access environmental and public health information.  

     And it is a work in progress with limitless possibilities: a focal point for community partnerships, an education tool for our nation's young people, a reference tool for our libraries, a tool that can help us realize our dreams of healthier, cleaner, thriving communities.

     And what's more, this website helps citizens better understand what all this information means. Oftentimes, a set of data numbers just doesn't mean much to most people -- X number of pounds of a certain toxic chemical in the air -- Y number of pounds of a toxic chemical in the water.

     We've structured this website to provide citizens a greater understanding of what all these complex data mean for their communities, for their health, for their families.

     I will save most of the details for the website demonstration that will follow in a few minutes. But simply put, all citizens have to do is contact EPA's Center for Environmental Information and Statistics web site at, enter a zip code, a state, or view the nation, and the information is right there to read -- in a user-friendly format.

     This Administration will never let up on its promise to ensure the public's right to know -- because knowing about pollution in our environment is a right -- not a privilege, not a luxury -- but a right for every American and every American community. We can do no less for our children. We can do no less for our communities. We can do no less for our future.

     Thank you.

     And now I would like to turn the floor over to EPA's Deputy Administrator Fred Hansen, who will start our demonstration of the new CEIS website. Fred...