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Jewish Council for Public Affairs Environmental Conference

Carol M. Browner, Administrator U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Jewish Council for Public Affairs Environmental Conference
     Session:  "Sustainable Cities: A 21st Century Challenge"
                      Prepared for Delivery
                        February 22, 1999

     Thank you, [     ], for that introduction.  I want to thank all of you for seeking to bring together the twin strands of religious faith and environmental action.  At this important gathering, you have an opportunity to create new connections, new coalitions, new collaborations.  

     And I urge you to take that opportunity.  Because during my six years with the Clinton
Administration, time and time again, I have experienced personally this very simple truth:  that economic progress and environmental protection can and must go hand in hand.  The effort to bring economic growth and economic justice to our cities -- and the effort to protect our air, our water, and our land -- these two vital endeavors can and must go hand in hand.

     I'm fortunate enough to live in a place where I can take the Metro to work, and as I walk home in the evening from the Metro, stop to pick up a gallon of milk, a prescription, and enjoy the company of my neighbors as we fall in together and finish our walk home.  I know every kid on my block.  I live in a neighborhood.  While not everyone would choose this lifestyle, more and more people are demanding precisely this kind of life, this kind of community.

     There's a movement afoot in America.

     From Michigan to Florida, from New Jersey to California, in small towns and large cities, it all starts with a common vision.  A vision of neighborhoods where work, home, school, and shopping are close enough together to spend more time where you want to be, than in your car.

     Communities with sidewalks, bike lanes, and public transportation.

     Towns with parks and community centers, where historic areas are restored and cared for.

     Downtowns, urban centers that are once again hopping places on Saturday night.

     Places with clean air, fresh water, and safe land.

     Today, Americans are recognizing that all of us -- at all points on the economic spectrum -- have a right to a safe environment.  No child deserves to grow up next to a toxic waste dump.  No neighborhood should be unfairly burdened with industrial pollution.

     Americans are recognizing that our environment is about more than beautiful vistas and scenic rivers. It's about more than our public health laws. It's about neighborhoods, protecting where you live and how you live. It's about communities -- and how we keep them healthy and strong.

     The American people are seeing the quality of their environment inextricably linked to the quality of their lives. Now when we look at that scenic river, it's more than a beautiful part of our community.  We know it's the source of our drinking water, and the source of local economic prosperity.  It's all part of a larger system that includes our rivers, our air, our land, our open space -- our communities.

     This past election, the American people delivered an imperative: Change the way we are building our cities and suburbs. Protect our quality of life, our green spaces -- and in so doing, protect our air, water, and health. Help us preserve our communities.

     In this past election, more than 150 state and local "green" initiatives were adopted by the voters, generating more than $7 billion for new growth strategies. The American people are calling for more open space, forests and prairies. More protections for streams, rivers, lakes -- the sources of our drinking water. More parks, bike paths, trails. More development that renews and revitalizes our nation's great cities.

     In short, the American people are calling for a better quality of life.

     People are returning to cities like Boston, with newly booming downtowns that offer a high quality of life. They're returning to Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago -- cities coming back to life from the bust years of the steel industry. They're returning in droves to many of the nation's urban centers and riverfronts as they shed years of neglect.

     Today our cities are emerging renewed and vibrant.  A new study by the Brookings Institute shows that 19 of the nation's largest cities expect growth booms -- some by as much as 300 percent.

     And, as they should be, many of the decisions about how that growth will occur are being made at the local level. But we, in the federal government, can help, too.  And we are.  We're encouraging that better balance between economic growth and the quality of life for all Americans.

     We are helping to clean up and redevelop our cities' brownfields -- the abandoned industrial properties that riddle our inner cities with boarded up shells of buildings and contaminated land.

     Today, coast to coast, we have more than 200 cities working with us to redevelop brownfields -- to bring economic prosperity back to our cities, and to spare green spaces from the bulldozers.

     We have created thousands of jobs with the brownfields program, and tens of thousands more jobs are expected.

     Redeveloping brownfields is a significant action we take to breathe new life and new hope into our inner cities -- and we will continue to expand this effort.

     We are also exploring every avenue for encouraging smart growth.  One study has estimated that recent changes in the capital gains tax may result in up to 300,000 additional inward moves per year.  People leaving the suburbs, moving back into the city.  Our job at EPA is to encourage better land use decisions -- like more compact development, like office buildings located closer to residences.

     We're giving communities new resources to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion -- like funding for a new pedestrian walkway in Cleveland, new bike racks in Chicago, a shuttle bus service in Seattle, and a host of other projects.

     And we're doing a much better job of engaging the public in the decision making process.  The Clinton Administration has continually expanded the public's right to know about the local condition of their air, land, and water -- so they can make informed decisions about how best to improve their neighborhoods.  So they can become knowledgeable participants in making decisions about where they live and how they live.

     All these actions will go far to build long-lasting, stable, and healthy communities.

     And there's more.

     The heart and soul of Vice President Gore's comprehensive new Livability Agenda is new tools to build strong, healthy communities for the 21st Century.

     A centerpiece of the Vice President's plan for the future is the Better America Bonds program.  This new EPA initiative will provide almost $10 billion in bonds, over five years, to build more livable communities.  That's billions of new dollars for preserving open spaces, protecting water quality, and redeveloping our inner cities.

     If the City of Baltimore, for example, wanted to team up with Baltimore County and other surrounding areas to preserve     wetlands, let's say, or redevelop brownfields, or create a park, or all those things together -- they could apply for bonding authority under the Better America Bonds program.

          It's a great deal.  Millions of dollars, with no interest, and 15 years to pay back the bond.  An innovative way to fund the hopes and dreams of our nation's communities.

     In closing, I would like us to take a moment to remember the story, handed down through Jewish tradition, about the traveler who comes upon an old man with his grandchild planting a tree together.

     The traveler asks how long it will take for the tree to bear fruit.

     Seventy years, comes the reply.

     The traveler is baffled.  Why would an old man plant such a tree, if he cannot possibly live long enough to taste its fruit?

     The old man explains.  I will not be around, but my grandchild will.  As my grandfather planted for me, so shall I plant for her.  

     I want to thank all of you for all you are doing to sustain our cities and protect our environment -- so that we may pass along a better world to our children and our children's children.

     We stand at the doorway of a new century.  Let us walk together every step of the way, to ensure that every American, in every American community, has clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, safe land upon which to live, and an enduring and satisfying quality of life.

     Only then can we preserve the health and integrity of all our great American communities -- our suburbs, our countrysides, our farms, and our cities -- all the places we Americans call home.

Thank you.