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American Rivers 1996 Urban River Restoration Awards

                         Carol M. Browner

Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency American Rivers 1996 Urban River Restoration Awards

                         Washington, D.C.

                      Prepared for Delivery
                         March 14, 1996

I want to thank Rebecca Wodder for inviting me to speak with you tonight. I want to congratulate all of tonight's award winners for all that you are doing to restore our urban rivers. I know you have been clearing and cleaning and constructing and restoring and educating and planting up a storm -- and communities across this country have reaped the benefits.

I am especially proud that four of EPA's AmeriCorps projects will be recognized here tonight. They are wonderful, important projects, and it is truly an honor to have that work acknowledged in such a meaningful setting tonight.

I am particularly glad to have the opportunity to address you now. Because today we are engaged in the most important environmental debate in 25 years.

Twenty-five years ago, the people of this country joined together to say: "We must stop the pollution. We must save our natural heritage."

Today we no longer have rivers catching on fire. Water bodies that used to be virtual sewage dumps are now vital, thriving places where people swim and fish. Millions of Americans are breathing cleaner air. Hundreds of toxic dump sites have been cleaned up.

Over the past three years, the Clinton Administration has acted to continue that proud history of progress.

Under the President's leadership, in this Administration we can point to the biggest drop in toxic air pollution in U.S. history.

This Administration has cleaned up more toxic waste sites than in the previous 12 years of the program.

We have expanded the public's right to know about toxic chemicals released in their neighborhoods.

We have moved aggressively to control hazardous waste incineration, to improve the safety of our drinking water, to remove dangerous contaminants from our rivers, lakes, and streams.

The President's budget plan will allow us to continue the job of public health and environmental protection. Under the President's plan, we can both balance the budget in seven years and protect public health and our environment.

But the Republican leadership in Congress has launched a concerted, orchestrated effort to repeal public health and environmental protections that American families have long depended on.

Last May, the House of Representatives passed an extreme rewrite of the Clean Water Act -- a bill that would systematically weaken each and every one of the tools we have used to clean up our water over the past two decades.

Currently the Clean Water Act removes more than one billion pounds per year of toxic pollutants from our nation's waters. Thanks to the Clean Water Act, 900 million tons per year of sewage are no longer discharged into our nation's waters. The standards and the resources provided by the Clean Water Act protect our health, our environment, our economy. The Clean Water Act helps keep our communities healthy and thriving.

Yet the bill passed by the House of Representatives would increase the amount of sewage and toxic waste pouring into our rivers and streams. It would allow the loss of over half of this nation's wetlands. And it would provide more protection to wealthy polluters than to all Americans who want clean, safe water to drink, fish from, swim in, boat on, or live near.

Last spring, President Clinton said he would veto that bill -- and he stopped that bill in its tracks. He said he would not be a party to a rollback of public health and environmental protection. And he has stood by that commitment. He vetoed the EPA budget put forward by the Congressional leadership because it would not allow us to protect the health of the American people.

The Republican leadership's budget would allocate 23 2.121996e-313ss than the President requested for environmental protection. Their budget would cut standard-setting, enforcement, toxic waste cleanup, and funding to protect drinking water and keep raw sewage out of our rivers and off our beaches.

Already, the government shutdowns, the short-term limited funding, and the budget uncertainty have taken a toll on our ability to protect the public.

In the first quarter of this fiscal year, we missed 4012f our environmental inspections. With additional cuts, we may have to cancel hundreds, if not thousands, of inspections.

Already, with Congress limiting our resources, we have had to slow down toxic waste cleanups in communities across this country. We haven't been able to start new cleanups at more than 60 sites. And continuing the cuts will mean that cleanup will slow down at a number of the 400 sites where cleanups are already underway.

Already, we have had to delay public access to new information under the community right-to-know laws. Vital research to protect our drinking water is being delayed.

And important controls on industrial water pollution have been limited. Four controls for industrial water pollutants have been delayed; two others are threatened. These controls would prevent the discharge of one billion pounds of industrial water pollutants per year into our rivers, lakes, and streams.

Make no mistake: the Republican leadership's budget means less clean air, dirty water, and environmental protection by triage.

The American people continue to want strong, effective protection of public health and our environment -- because the job is not done.

Forty percent of our rivers, lakes, and streams are still not suitable for fishing or swimming.

Thirty million people in this country get their drinking water from systems that have violated public health standards in the past year.

One American in three still lives in an area where the air is too polluted to meet federal health standards.

One American in four still lives near a toxic waste dump.

The job is not done. President Clinton believes, as I do, that our commitment cannot waver. The responsibility is still ours -- and will always be -- to manage responsibly the air, the land, and the water that all of us must share. We call on Congress to restore the bipartisan commitment to public health and environmental protection that has served this country so well for 25 years.

A clean environment. Safer streets. Healthy families. Strong communities. These are the values that we as Americans hold dear. Let us continue to work together to protect our health, our neighborhoods, our cities, our economy -- so that all of us and our children and our grandchildren can enjoy a healthy and a prosperous life.

Thank you.