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National Association of Counties Annual Conference, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Remarks for Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,
at the
National Association of Counties Annual Conference
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

July 16, 2001

Thank you very much for that introduction. It is a pleasure to be able to join you for your annual conference.

As a former county official and governor, I believe very strongly that local governments – those closest to a problem – are often best suited to finding solutions that get results. I know that your work here in Philadelphia will yield many great ideas – and solutions – that will greatly benefit families in the counties you represent.

Central to the environmental priorities of this administration is improving the relationship among the federal government, states, and localities so that we are more often working together, rather than against one another, as we pursue responsible environmental stewardship.

The President and I both believe that we will accomplish this by forming partnerships with all of the stakeholders in any given issue. Given the many areas of common interest between EPA and local government, interaction between us is inevitable. The choice of this Administration is to take that interaction to the next level – cooperation. I have no doubt that our ability to redefine environmental achievement for the 21st century rests on our willingness to embrace true partnerships as the primary tool of progress.

In fact, I understand that you are honoring some people who have already taken up this mantle of partnership with EPA. I would like to add my personal congratulations to the many voices cheering the Five Star Grant award winners. They provide us all with a shining example of the New Environmentalism – one defined by widespread cooperation – that President Bush and I hope to foster between EPA and the rest of the country. Let’s give them all a round of applause.

One of the environmental priorities on President Bush’s agenda that directly engages local governments is brownfields redevelopment. The cleanup of brownfields is clearly a challenge best left to local and state governments because they know what areas need attention and what new uses are most appropriate for the specific locations. This year we have the best opportunity yet to enact broad brownfields reform and I am pleased that legislation is moving through Congress.

The Senate took a huge step forward by unanimously passing Senators Chafee and Smith’s bill. Now, we look forward to working with Chairman Gillmor and his colleagues in the House to send to the President’s desk the legislation he seeks and you need. The President and I believe that this legislation should include several important principles.

Foremost, the final bill should provide protection from federal Superfund liability.

It should provide states with the resources and authority they need to run their own brownfields programs and allow EPA to work with the states to ensure they use high, but flexible, cleanup standards.

In addition to state run programs, it should streamline the federal brownfields grant process and provide maximum flexibility for the use of those grants, focusing additional research and development efforts on finding new brownfields cleanup technologies and techniques.

Finally, the brownfields tax incentive should be made a permanent part of the tax code.

Brownfields legislation will give you, and your counterparts across America, the tools needed to get the job done by removing barriers that have been put in the way. It will, in short, make all of us true partners in pursuit of a common goal – transforming these environmental eyesores into true community assets for the people who live and work near them.

Another area that will require cooperation between EPA and many localities across the country is in assuring America’s water supply. Of particular interest to counties that operate drinking water and sewage treatment systems is the need to modernize the nation’s water infrastructure.

We cannot continue to rely on 20th century infrastructure for safe and clean water in the 21st century. We are committed to working with you to upgrade our nation’s water infrastructure, as reflected in the President’s continued capitalization of the drinking water and clean water State Revolving Funds in this year’s budget. The flexibility to transfer allotments between these funds will allow for maximum local discretion in identifying the most critical needs and will ensure that we continue to supply dependable and affordable water to America’s families.

Aging infrastructure is also plaguing the country’s energy supply. I know that you will hear a lot more about the President’s Energy Plan from Vice President Cheney later on today, however, I would like to take a moment to explain how my agency – the EPA – will be involved in both helping secure America’s energy security and protecting our environment.

I was honored to be asked to participate with the Vice President on the Energy Task Force which President Bush charged with developing a comprehensive plan to address the growing energy needs of our country – the first such plan in a generation.

I believe that my presence on that task force shows the commitment this Administration has to solving the energy problem without harming – but rather improving – our environment. Nearly half of the proposals in the final plan were directed at conservation, efficiency, and clean energy solutions. By encouraging conservation, investing in increased efficiency technology, and incorporating alternative and renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal into our energy mix, we will maintain our quality of life and leave the environment cleaner than we found it.

In all of these policy considerations, there is always the danger of succumbing to “Inside the Beltway” thinking. Having spent all of my public service career outside of Washington, I understand that decisions made in Washington should not be one-size-fits-all, that implementation is almost always best left to those who understand the problems on a local level.

I have an enormous appreciation for the value of the services you provide and the unique challenges and rewards of your jobs. It is important to talk with groups like yours to ensure that the individual community perspective is always brought to the table in our national policy making efforts.

After spending a few days away from the office here in Philadelphia, I am sure that your “to-do” lists are growing by the second. However, I would like to make sure that your voice is heard on all of the topics I have mentioned, as well as several others that I am sure are on your minds. So, if you wouldn’t mind adding a few more items to those lists, I would greatly appreciate the benefit of your thinking on a few issues.

First, I would like to know what you think the key environmental challenges local governments are facing today – besides the perennial need for more money.

Next, I’d like you to develop a list of the EPA practices currently in effect that make your management of environmental activities more difficult than it needs to be.

Third, I would like to know what your three top funding priorities would be for the FY 2003 budget – which is already being prepared.

Finally, I’d be interested in knowing how you believe both EPA and the states or localities should judge the performance of environmental programs and activities.

Your input in these areas will be very valuable to me, and our management team at EPA, in guiding the priorities for the Agency in the coming months and years. I hope you will have the chance to give them some thought.

We have numerous environmental challenges ahead of us. Each provides an opportunity to renew our commitment to increased cooperation, and the chance to provide our children and grandchildren with a cleaner and safer place to raise a family. I look forward to working with you toward both of these goals and am confident that together we can raise the bar of environmental achievement – and clear it by a wide margin.

Thank you.