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Jewish Council for Public Affairs Annual Conference, Washington, D.C.

Remarks of Christine Todd Whitman
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
at the
Jewish Council for Public Affairs Annual Conference
Washington, D.C.

February 19, 2002
Thank you, Ted (Eisenberg), for that introduction.

I am pleased to be here with you, especially because the past week has been an exciting one for the environment here in America – and in fact around the world.

Over the past months, the Bush Administration has shown anew its commitment to protecting America’s valuable environment and I am pleased to have this chance to share with you some of the progress we are making.

When President Bush and I entered office a little more than a year ago, we both shared a commitment to a common goal – to leave America’s air cleaner, its water purer, and its land better protected than when we arrived.

We also shared some beliefs about how to best achieve that goal. As former governors, we understood that some of the most innovative, creative, and effective environmental solutions were being developed in state, local, and tribal governments across the country – as well as in the private sector.

Our experience also convinced us that the old style of command and control from Washington, D.C. was no longer the best way to get results. Instead, we have sought to build partnerships with others who share the same goals – corporations, local planning boards, non-profits, small businesses, committed citizens, and governments from all levels.

The success of this approach is rooted in the mission of our Agency – to protect our environment and safeguard human health. We are, as an entire agency, committed to working to make people’s lives better by improving the one thing that bonds us all together – our precious environment.

We are here to make your air cleaner – so that children can play at recess without the threat of an asthma attack. We are here to make your water purer – so that all Americans can take a drink from the tap or a cool swim in a lake. And we are here to make our land healthier to live, work, and raise a family.

Let me take a minute to tell you how we plan to achieve each of these important goals.

Just last week, President Bush announced two new initiatives that will help us achieve cleaner air for many years to come. The first – the Clear Skies Act of 2002 – is the most aggressive plan to reduce air pollution in this country in more than a decade – and it comes not a moment too soon.

This plan proposes establishing a flexible, market-based program to significantly reduce and cap emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury from power plants. It is a common sense solution that will streamline the existing process into a simpler and more effective program of cap and trade.

Environmental results will be guaranteed because the plan sets a limit – or cap – on the three worst pollutants generated by utilities nationwide – SO2, NOX, and mercury. It also provides utilities with the flexibility they need to achieve these reductions, allowing them to decide for themselves how to best cut pollution.

This new approach for power generators is modeled on our most successful clean air program to date – the Acid Rain Program. It only takes 20 EPA employees to administer this program and compliance is nearly 100 percent.

That’s why we used it as the model for addressing the need to reduce emissions of NOx, SOx, and mercury by power plants. It’s no secret that these three emissions contribute to a variety of health and environmental problems, including asthma and other respiratory conditions, heart disease, smog, regional haze, and various fish and wildlife conditions. Leaving America’s air cleaner than we found requires us to find a sensible way reduce these three pollutants – and that’s what the President’s Clear Skies Initiative does.

Clear Skies will mean a 70 percent reduction in the emissions from power plants of NOx, SOx, and mercury. That’s millions of tons of pollution that won’t be put into our air. And it’s tens of thousands fewer asthma attacks, thousands of lives saved, and miles and miles of new vistas at our national parks and in our cities opened up.

This initiative makes sense for America, but as we all know, we must also look beyond our borders when it comes to environmental challenges. That is why President Bush has also announced a new strategy for addressing global climate change.

In his speech last week, the President committed America to a leadership role in this effort by cutting greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent over the next ten years. By making our environmental goals consistent with our economic prosperity, America will slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and then – as the science justifies – stop and reverse that growth in the future.

This proposal is supported by the President’s budget request. In it, he provides $4.5 billion for global climate change activities – a $700 million increase – which includes an unprecedented commitment to tax credits for renewable energy. This is a voluntary program that will give businesses the incentive to make long-term investments and develop new technologies to combat climate change.

With these two new initiatives, we will protect the health and well-being of millions of Americans today and make sure the air is cleaner for future generations. I am looking forward to working with the President, Congress, and our partners across the country to turn these proposals into action – and into cleaner air. We’ll show that partnerships have and will continue to be effective in solving even our most crucial environmental challenges.

We have already proven that this approach can work through our efforts to reclaim America’s brownfields. A brownfield is a piece of property that, because of its previous use, is thought to be environmentally contaminated. These properties – often old gas stations or abandoned small factories – are a blight on their neighborhoods and a drain on the economic vitality of their communities.

Reclaiming brownfields for productive use provides enormous benefits. Every acre of brownfields reused saves 4.5 acres of green space. Every dollar of federal money spent on brownfields has leveraged two-and-a-half dollars of private investment. And, of course, when a brownfield is turned into a ballfield or park, or a new doctor’s office, or a community center, the neighborhood’s quality of life is greatly improved.

For a variety of reasons, we haven’t been able to make as much progress cleaning up brownfields across America as we would like, although due to some innovative efforts at the state level, we have seen some significant progress. For most of the 1990s, Congress tried to enact brownfields legislation to address the problems that have discouraged the redevelopment of brownfields, but it never quite got there.

Fortunately, this past year President Bush made the passage of such legislation a priority – he campaigned on it in 2000 and wanted to see it done in 2001. After much hard work, the Congress passed brownfields legislation late last year and I am pleased to report that the President signed the bill a few weeks ago.

This new law will help eliminate the mine field of liabilities that anyone who sought to reclaim a brownfield has faced, while providing additional resources to states and communities to undertake this important environmental work. It will eliminate thousands of environmental eyesores and create thousands of community assets.

Having talked a bit about the air and land, let me address our water challenges for a minute. Water is likely to be the major environmental issue of the 21st century, and I believe that achieving the next generation of environmental progress in water will demand the adoption of a watershed-based approach. I recently heard a watershed defined as “Communities connected by water” – a good reminder that we all live downstream from someone.

When a suburban homeowner uses a certain pesticide on their lawn, or changes the oil in their car in the driveway, rain can carry the residue far from where it was originally deposited. When farmers aren’t careful about how they manage their waste, a small creek can carry those pollutants from the farm all the way to a lake miles away. When city dwellers aren’t careful about what is deposited on their streets, that waste can wind up in the ocean. This is called non-point source pollution – pollutants that aren’t dumped directly into water but that wind up there anyway.

Today, the primary cause of most of America’s water pollution challenges is non-point source pollution. Because everyone is responsible for creating non-point source pollution, it makes sense that everyone should be involved in eliminating it. That is what a watershed approach will allow us to do, and I am proud that we announced a new initiative just three weeks ago to help us incorporate these principles of cooperation and innovation into EPA’s water program.

The new watershed initiative, for which President Bush has requested $21 million in his next budget, will allow EPA to support 20 of our country’s most valuable watersheds with grants that will help local communities in their efforts to expand and improve existing protection measures.

This initiative recognizes the important role state and local governments can play in helping us achieve our common goals, by giving them the power to do what works. The EPA can then help ensure their success by supporting them with the technical and financial assistance they need to turn ideas into real results for our Nation’s waterways.

This new initiative will mean cleaner streams for fishing, clearer lakes for swimming and boating, and healthier life both underwater and throughout nearby communities.

Watershed protection, brownfields redevelopment, and the Clear Skies initiative are examples of how the EPA is working to make our air cleaner, our water purer, and our land better protected.

They represent a commitment to the health of our families, the protection of our environment, and the sacred promise we have made to future generations to leave them a cleaner planet than we found. I am proud that the Bush Administration and the EPA are taking the steps necessary to ensure that we achieve these goals.

Thank you.