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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

National League of Cities Conference, Washington, D.C.

03/11/2002
Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at the
National League of Cities Conference
Washington, D.C.

March 11, 2002


Thank you for that introduction.

Until recently, I have spent my entire career in public service at the state and local level – whether as a county official – on the Board of Public Utilities – or serving as Governor of New Jersey. So when I say that you have an administrator at the EPA who understands the concerns of local governments – I want you to know that it is true. In fact, I see my work at the EPA as an extension of my time in state and local government.

The reason I say that is because I believe very strongly – as does another former governor, President Bush – that those closest to a problem are often best suited to finding solutions that get results. That is why we have made partnerships one of the priorities of our administration. We must improve the relationships among the federal government, states, and localities so that we are more often working together, rather than at cross-purposes, 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 further improve environmental achievement in the 21st century rests on our willingness to embrace true partnerships as the primary tools of progress.

One of the reasons partnerships can be so successful is that we share many of the same goals. Mine, in short, is to leave America’s air cleaner, its water purer, and its land better protected than when I arrived. We were able to do that in New Jersey and I am confident that we can do the same across the country.

I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish for the environment in the first 13 months we have been in office – but we must turn the process that we have created, into progress for America’s families. We need your help to do that, so let me touch briefly on a number of issues that we must tackle together in order to reach our goals for the environment.

I know that water quality is a critical concern for cities across the country, and I assure you it is at the EPA as well. I have said numerous times that I believe water issues will be the most pressing ones we face in the coming years.

Non-point source pollution, for instance, presents an entirely new type of challenge – one far different than the direct discharge pipes of the past. The causes are more subtle – an oil leak in a driveway or litter on a city street – and the solutions will require innovation and creativity. One thing is certain, because the causes of non-point source pollution are spread out across a community, the solution must be as well. That is why we are advocating the use 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. Our actions – even far away from water sources – affect our neighbors as much as families living in the next town or the next state. By focusing our attention on an entire watershed, we can protect the health and water quality for everyone.

I am proud that we announced a new initiative to help us incorporate the 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 complements the money already made available to state and local governments through non-point source grants.

This initiative recognizes the important role state and local governments can play in helping us achieve our common goals, by giving you the power to do what works. The EPA can then help ensure your success by supporting you with the technical and financial assistance you 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 the cities you represent.

Of course, watersheds are not the only area of concern – I know that you are very focused on improving water infrastructure and the security of our water systems. The most effective tool we have for addressing these needs are the State Revolving Funds programs, which is why the President has proposed funding the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds at $1.2 billion and $850 million respectively for FY 2003.

History has shown these programs to be extremely successful. To date, the federal government has provided more than $19.7 billion in capitalization funding to states for the Clean Water SRFs and $3.6 billion for the Drinking Water SRFs. Because of the revolving nature of these funds, the money has provided about 4 times the purchasing power compared to direct grants. More important, it allows you to help choose where the money is needed most.

Obviously, one of the greatest needs is wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. Regardless of whether you use the EPA Needs Surveys or the Water Infrastructure Network estimates – the challenge of infrastructure is great, and the money needed to address it is substantial. We must direct resources into water infrastructure and at the same time reduce the costs to ensure efficient and productive use of these resources.

To meet the future challenges to clean and safe water, the Administration believes that there are several principles that must guide our efforts. We must harness the power of the private sector, both for financing and the development of new technologies and innovations that will lower future costs and lead to more efficient and sustainable systems. We must encourage cost-based and affordable rates while we work to ensure that services are still affordable, especially for low-income families. And we must use a holistic approach – which should certainly include looking at entire watersheds – in order to better manage our water use through efficient strategies, conservation and reuse, and better coordination with local planning.

As I mentioned, it is no secret that you are best prepared to determine which combination of these strategies will work best for your city or locality. Therefore, we look forward to working with you – and with the Congress and state governments – to turn these principles into actions that will allow us to continue the progress we have made on improving water infrastructure.

We will also be working with Congress in the coming months to turn the President’s Clear Skies proposal into actions that will help make America’s air cleaner.

President Bush recently announced a new initiative that will help us achieve cleaner air for many years to come. 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.

The 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 – sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, 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 it 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 these three emissions from power plants over the next decade. That means eliminating 25 million more tons of SO2,10 million more tons of NOX, and 20 more tons of mercury than we would under the current Clean Air Act.

In addition to keeping millions of tons of pollution out of our air, adopting the Clear Skies proposal will mean tens of thousands fewer asthma attacks, thousands of lives saved, miles and miles of new vistas at our national parks, and a better view of our city skylines.

Lastly, let me touch briefly on an area where we have already proven that a partnership approach can really work – reclaiming America’s brownfields. The cleanup of brownfields is clearly a challenge best left to local and state governments because you know what areas need attention and what new uses are most appropriate in your locations.

You know better than anyone that 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.

I am so pleased that the President made new brownfields legislation a top priority on his legislative agenda, and I am even more pleased that he was able to sign a bipartisan bill that will eliminate the potential liabilities for developers and provide local governments with the resources you need to undertake this important environmental work.

Our partnership on brownfields does not stop with local governments. The EPA is working with Habitat for Humanity to identify brownfields that are appropriate for low-income residential housing and I recently signed an agreement with the Unites States Soccer Foundation to similarly find brownfields or Superfund sites that can house soccer fields and other recreational facilities. We are truly proving that partnerships can protect the land, and the quality of life, wherever brownfields are found.

Redeveloping brownfields is also a great strategy for promoting smart growth. By developing in areas where infrastructure already exists, we can eliminate the need to do so in valuable open spaces. I recently had the chance to announce two new initiatives – one dealing with brownfields – that will become part of EPA’s overall Smart Growth program.

In the coming year, EPA will provide additional grants and technical assistance to pilot communities that are redeveloping brownfields in a manner that is consistent with their own goals for smart growth. With hundreds of thousands of brownfields needing attention across the country, it is clear that we will need to prioritize. This is one way of doing that, and it will help communities achieve the goals they have set for Smart Growth in their area.

The second initiative will help us ensure that smart growth success stories are shared with everyone. The best way to encourage more sensible development is to show people that smart growth is already working to improve the quality of life in the town or state next door. That is why the EPA will establish a National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. This annual award will recognize communities and individual leaders who have demonstrated innovation and success in applying smart growth principles – and I look forward to announcing the first five recipients next year.

Promoting smart growth through brownfields redevelopment is one way we are making our ever-expanding society, even more sustainable. Along with the Clear Skies initiative and watershed protection, they 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 working closely with all of you in local governments across the country to take the steps necessary to ensure that we achieve our common goals.

Thank you.