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"It's Our Environment Too": Remarks to the National Hispanic Sustainable Energy and Environmental Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Buenas tardes! Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I appreciate your warm welcome.

I love Albuquerque. It is a city rich in Hispanic culture and heritage – a great venue to host a national event “by and for Hispanics.” As a son of the West I enjoy every chance I get to be among the mountains, wide-open skies and people here. So thank you for inviting me today.

I would like to acknowledge the National Hispanic Environmental Council Board members – including Manuel Hernandez, the current chairman, and Roger Rivera, the president and founder of the Council.

And to you, the attendees of this conference, welcome. I’m delighted the Environmental Protection Agency could be a major sponsor of this gathering. We join you in celebrating the Council’s credo, “it’s our environment too.” It is right and well that we come together, all of us, to protect the planet we share.

I want you to know why I’m here. Prior to my time as administrator of the USEPA, I was the Governor of Utah. When I became governor, 4 percent of our population was of Hispanic origin. Eleven years later it was over 10 percent. When the 2020 census is taken, it will show that nearly one of every five residents of that state will be Hispanic. These statistics demonstrate the huge opportunity that exists for Utah, this region, and our nation to blend our national economic interests with those of countries and communities south of here.

During the last several years of my service as governor, we began a very clear set of initiatives to assist with this integration. One initiative, for example, was to clear the way for a student in our state who had lived there for a number of years, maybe had even graduated from high school, but had was not there as a resident, to receive legal status for our colleges and universities.

I believed this was the right thing to do, not only for humanitarian reasons, but for economic reasons. These students were working hard in our schools, and very clearly would be part of our workforce in the future. We all benefited from having them become part of our economic team.

I come today in the same spirit. It seems very evident to me that over the course of the next 20 years our nation will see a dramatic change demographically and culturally. It is absolutely necessary that those who serve in environmental and economic positions be a part of that community.

Now, those of you who are students, we need you. We need you to be successful academically and we need you to become part of what we’re doing as a nation if we are to make ourselves successful both economically and environmentally.

At my first Cabinet meeting the President welcomed me and then asked four questions he said he would repeat at each Cabinet meeting – “Is the air cleaner, is the water purer, is the land better protected and are we doing it in a way that keeps us economically competitive?”

His questions defined his passion, my stewardship and the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Now it should not be lost on any of us that the first three questions – is the air clean, water pure and land well protected – are fundamental to our nation’s environmental progress and have been the focus of past efforts. In fact, we have great reason to celebrate the progress of the past.

Last year, EPA’s 2002 Air Quality Trends Report included the very positive news that over the past 30 years, air pollution from the six major pollutants decreased by 48%, even as our population grew 39%, our energy consumption increased 42% and the economy grew 164%.

But we can do more. And we can do it faster. And the key to more progress is the fourth question – are we affirming our nation’s economic competitiveness?

I would like to just tell you a little bit about the last 30 years. Some of you may have lived through this with me. And the rest of you have no idea and can’t conceive how long ago this was!

I was sitting in my study recently and had a CD of hits from the 1970s playing. My 14-year-old son came in and started to ask me about the songs.

The CD had a song by Three Dog Night. It had the Carpenters. If you’re shaking your head up and down, I know you’re my age. My son began asking questions of where I was thirty some odd years ago.

I was living in Oregon. I was 19 years old and it was April of 1970, the first Earth Day.
Twenty million people came together for one reason. We had allowed our country’s economy to grow, but we had not cared for our environment.

A river had literally caught on fire. There were places in industrial cities where people had to turn on their lights at noon because it was so dark because of the pollution. Places where you literally had to change your shirt twice a day. If you went for a swim in the Hudson River, you were eligible for a tetanus shot. But then our country woke up. When I was a 19 year old in Oregon, there was a governor by the name of Tom McCall. Tom McCall introduced the first bottle bill legislation. It was the first time that a state required a deposit on soda bottles or beer bottles that you could get back if you’ve turned the bottle in.

At the time, it was a very controversial piece of legislation. Not just in Oregon, but across the country. It represented the first time a generation had stood up and said, “Wait a minute. We’ve got to do something about the environment. We’ve got air that is polluted. We’ve got water that is impure. We’ve got sites that are being polluted.”

An entire generation began to move into action.

That was 30 years ago. And in the last 30 years, we have made enormous progress as a nation. But we can do more.

The USEPA was founded in 1970, one outgrowth of that first Earth Day. Entire groups of people joined the Agency with a real sense of commitment and belief that they could make a difference. Many of those people are still at the Agency, having spent entire careers making a difference and improving the environment.

In the next five years, 35% of the Agency will reach a point where they can retire and more into other areas of service. Thirty-five percent of an entire agency leaving is both a serious challenge and an opportunity.

So why am I here? I’m here because we are seeking the next generation of leadership. And we need to have your community well represented because you are a big part of the changing face of America.

And we’re on the verge of the most prolific era of environmental progress in our history. Let’s take just one area as an example: clean air.

Clean air is a topic that has an important connection to the Hispanic community because important segments of the population are at risk. For example,
  • 64% of Hispanics have children under the age of 18. Children are more susceptible to respiratory illness than other segments of the population.
  • According the American Lung Association, Hispanic-American children have a higher rate of asthma than Caucasian children.
  • In fact, in the Northeastern United States, Hispanics have an asthma death rate more than twice the rate of Caucasians.

The best thing we can do for these children is implement a national strategy to clean up the air.

In the early 1970’s, we laid out a basic strategy in the Clean Air Act. The strategy is that we would establish health-based standards for the air, then we would define the areas of our nation that were not meeting this standard, and then we would have each state develop a plan to bring non-attainment areas into attainment.

Then, in 1991, we had the Clean Air Act Amendments which were essentially a rewrite using the things that we had learned in the last 20 years to improve our approach to environmental quality.

On April the 15th of this year we will take the next step. On that day, the first of five new rules to clean up our nation’s air will be finalized.

Today, I am using this forum as a means to announce that the names of those rules will be changed. We’re going to change them to clarify what they will require. And we’re also changing them to give context to the importance of the role that they play in our nation’s 30 year quest for cleaner air.

From this point forward, the rules will collectively be known as the Clean Air Rules of 2004. The rules are the Clean Air Ozone Rule, the Clean Air Fine Particle Rule, the Clean Air Interstate Rule, the Clean Air Diesel Rule and the Clean Air Mercury Rule of 2004.

Together, they are sweeping, and their impact should not be understated.
  • They will help Americans live longer and better.
  • They will improve the health of people now and in the future.
  • They will ensure that clean air is this generation’s contribution to the next generation.

Taken together – the Clean Air Rules of 2004 – comprise a national strategy to implement:
  • The most protective ozone and fine particle standards in our nation’s history;
  • The eventual elimination of the black puff of smoke you see, smell and breath that comes from diesel engines on school buses, tractors, tractor trailers and other diesel engines;
  • The first ever regulation of mercury from coal-fired power plants – FIRST EVER; and,
  • The reduction by approximately 70% of NOx and SO2 from coal-fired power plants.

As a result of these rules, we will see a significant improvement in air quality over the next 15 years in this country. Our objective is to make more progress and make it faster and find better ways to do it. And all of you can contribute. In fact, I’m here today to invite you to contribute.

The President’s Clean Air Rules of 2004 will make people healthier now and in the future. The result is more protection, faster and ensures that clean air will be this generation’s contribution to our children and grandchildren.

Thank you.