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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Wisconsin Partners for Clean Air Milwaukee, Wisconsin

03/03/1999
Carol M. Browner, Administrator Environmental Protection Agency Remarks Prepared for Delivery Wisconsin Partners for Clean Air Milwaukee, Wisconsin
         
                       March 3, 1999
                               
               Good afternoon. I'd like to thank Lt. Governor McCallum for that introduction.

     It's a pleasure to be here with the Wisconsin Partners for Clean Air. It's fitting we meet here in Milwaukee in more ways than one. I recently learned that the city's name is derived from a native-American word that means "council place."

     Well, this is truly an important council we are having here today. The new century is just
303 days away. And you have pledged to enter it with a difficult -- but crucial -- mission: Working at the local level for clean air in our neighborhoods and communities.

     The President believes these kind of partnership efforts are so important that in his State of the Union Address he called for a Clean Air Partnership Fund.

     Grants from this $200-million fund would be used to help state and local government find cost-effective pollution control strategies, stimulate technological innovation and help spur non-Federal investments in improve air quality.

     To help our local communities even further, the President called for $6 billion that would be used for tax cuts for consumers who purchase fuel efficient cars, homes and appliances, or for purchasing electricity from alternative sources like wind, solar and biomass.
     
     The money would also be used to pay for increased research and development programs that will put us on the cutting edge of the "clean technologies" the 21st Century calls for.

     With these new technologies, our industries, our vehicles and our power plants will continue to provide for our economic growth, without endangering our environmental health.

     Let me begin by quickly sharing with you a short story I read some time ago because I think it helps make a point.

     The story is called The City. It opens with a land surveyor looking at a clearing freshly made in a forest. "Now we're making progress," the surveyor said.

     A town was soon built in the clearing. Over time, the town grew and became a city. And for a time the city thrived. But then it fell into decline.

      Eventually, the city was abandoned and fell into ruin. And slowly the forest started
creeping back upon the city. And a woodpecker, sitting in one of the trees, looked around said: "Now we're making progress."

     Well, I laughed when I first read that. I liked the irony. But I think it illustrates a problem in the way many people think about the relationship between growing communities and a healthy environment -- the idea that progress for one must come at the expense of the other.

     But I think everyone involved with Partners for Clean Air has by now come to realize that progress towards cleaner air means progress for our communities as well.

     It's good for our families' health. It's good for the economy. It protects our natural wonders -- like Wisconsin's 15,000 lakes. And it even protects our historic buildings and outdoor art objects, such as the Bradley Sculpture Garden here in Milwaukee.

     These are all put at risk right now by a colorless, odorless class of gases known as nitrogen oxides.

     Since 1970, EPA has tracked emissions of six principal air pollutants. All have decreased significantly over this period -- except for nitrogen oxides, which contribute to the formation of ozone smog. Nitrogen Oxides -- or NOx -- have actually increased by around 10 percent.

     Drifting in the air, NOx  reacts with other compounds to form pollutants that are harmful to all that lives and corrosive to all that's manmade.

     Making matters worse, these pollutants drift far from the source, so a pollutant created in Milwaukee by a driver going for a gallon of milk, can drift into the lungs of an asthmatic child in Michigan.

     To get at this problem, EPA has proposed a rule that will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 28 percent in 22 affected states, including Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. This will keep about 1.1 million tons of pollution out of the air annually by the year 2007. That's the equivalent of taking 166 million cars off the road.

     But EPA is not dictating how these reductions are achieved. We're leaving it up to the states to decide what's best for them. EPA is encouraging states to look towards their power plants, where reductions can be achieved most cost effectively.

     But there are other ways. In Wisconsin -- and in all the affected states -- there are as many potential solutions as there are people in the state.

     And that is because each of us, by taking small steps in our daily routines, can help create sweeping changes towards cleaner air.

     This is where you come in as Partners for Clean Air.  Your "It All Ads Up to Clean Air" campaign is showing commuters, homeowners and employers just the sort of individual steps they can take to reduce pollution -- and also save themselves some money as well.

     Little things like driving more efficiently, keeping the car tuned, insulating our homes, flexible work days, or even changing the way we maintain our lawns can all add up to cleaner air.

     I think it's important to remember why we are doing this. We're not fighting for clean air just for clean air's sake. We do it to protect public health, particularly the health of the most vulnerable -- our children and our seniors.

     Nationally we spend $600 billion a year at all levels of government on our children's education. But this most precious investment is wasted if we don't work to keep the air they breathe from making them sick -- or even killing them.

     Children are more susceptible to pollutants than adults because their bodies are still growing.

     Let's look at just one indicator. Asthma.

     The number of children diagnosed with asthma has doubled over the past 15 years to about 6 million. And the death rate related to asthma has increased 78 percent over the same period.

     In response to this trend, the First Lady announced a new $68-million initiative to attack this problem through both education and research and EPA will play a leading role in the battle to help our children breathe easier. But we know air pollution plays a role in an asthma attack.

     As a society, we decided all our seniors should be guaranteed dignified retirements, so we invested in Social Security and Medicare. Yet, on an ozone alert day, we basically turn our seniors into shut ins because it is unhealthy for them to go outside.

     Besides protecting public health, we're fighting for clean air so we can save our nation's physical wonders -- both natural and manmade -- from the corrosive effects of pollution.

     The President and Vice President have proposed their Lands Legacy Initiative, which will invest $1 billion in the purchase and protection of precious lands and coastal waters. But this investment is undermined if we continue to allow acid rain to ruin our forests and poison our lakes, rivers and streams.  For instance, almost forty percent of Wisconsin's 15,000 lakes are showing some effects from acid rain.

     And all our historic buildings, great public works and outdoor art are crumbling at faster rates because of this corrosive storm of acid rain.

     All of you here understand the problem and have chosen to get involved. And you have my thanks. Faced with this problem, you chose not to wring your hands in indecision, but rather to roll up your sleeves and work with us as partners.

     Under this administration, EPA has stressed partnerships over regulation. We found we get better results when we sit down and talk things over as partners, rather than sit back and issue orders as regulators. Our communities and corporations have unique needs that require unique solutions.

     With this in mind, EPA has developed partnerships with more than 5,000 U.S. organizations and businesses -- including some of the biggest corporations in the nation. Working together, we prevented the release of nearly 60 million tons of pollutants and saved businesses and consumers more than $1 billion.

     These partnerships have been shared success stories. And I think the Wisconsin Partners for Clean Air are going to become another success story as well. You are one of just three demonstration projects nationwide, so communities all over America will be watching what you do to bring change at the local level. So a success story here can become another shared success for us all.

     Working together as Partners for Clean Air, I think we can meet our goals. And having worked together protected our health, our environment -- our very quality of life -- I think we'll
be able to look around at the legacy we are creating and say: "Now we're making progress."

     Thank you.