Speeches By EPA Administrator
Administrator Johnson, EPA’s 35th Anniversary Celebration, EPA's Mellon Auditorium, Washington, D.C.01/18/2006
I would like to thank the former Administrators who have helped shape EPA’s success: Bill Ruckelshaus; Russell Train; Doug Costle; Lee Thomas; Bill Reilly; Carol Browner; Christine Todd Whitman; and, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt. I would also like to thank the family members of Anne Burford for joining us.
I also want to welcome: Secretary of Energy, Sam Bodman; Secretary of Vetrans Affairs, Jim Nickolson; Claude Allen, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy; and, Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality.
It means a lot to me personally, and I know it means a lot to EPA’s employees, that you have taken the time out of your busy lives to be with us for this celebration today.
And there is much to celebrate - our air is cleaner, our water is purer, and our land is better protected.
Over our 35 years, EPA has not just changed the way our environment looks, EPA has changed the way we look at our environment.
At 35, EPA is one of the newer kids on the block. Even so, the results we have delivered for the American people can stack-up next to any of our federal partners – the federal partners we are working with to improve the environment. As we celebrate our anniversary throughout this year, EPA's birthday present to America is cleaner air, water and land – we’re fulfilling our obligation to leave the nation's environment healthier than when we found it.
35 years ago, our nation awoke to the health and environmental impacts of rampant and highly visible pollution – rivers so contaminated that they caught on fire, entire towns built upon sites so toxic that the only recourse was to abandon them, and air pollution so thick that in some cities people had to change their shirts twice a day.
That first Earth Day in 1970 was a wake-up call to our nation – one that prompted President Nixon to create the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Today, we can look back and celebrate that decision - as a milestone in our nation’s environmental consciousness.
I remember Administrator Ruckelshaus telling a story about being on a tour of a polluting industrial facility in the early 1970s. The owner pulled him aside and whispered that he thought EPA and environmentalism, were a passing fad. Well, all of us here today are proof that this so-called “fad,” never went away, and in fact its impact continues to flourish.
We have built improvement upon improvement, and success upon success.
We began banning CFC’s under Administrator Costle’s direction, and authorized the first state hazardous waste programs under Administrator Burford.
We put in place the first tailpipe emission standards under Administrator Ruckelshaus, instituted the first industrial water discharge permits during the tenure of Administrator Train, and set standards for underground storage tanks on Administrator Thomas’s watch.
As the look of our environment changed, so did the way industry looked at the environment. Industry responded to policies that provided incentives to clean up faster. Innovative policies, like the Acid Rain program launched by Administrator Reilly, helped EPA deliver environmental results quicker, cheaper, and more effectively than anyone had predicted. Their successes formed the framework for EPA’s suite of clean air rules, developed under Secretary Leavitt.
Since EPA’s founding, air pollution has decreased over 50 percent. Lakes in the North East are recovering. Views are improved throughout our national parks. People are living healthier lives. From 1970 to 2004, our country’s gross domestic product more than doubled. Our ability to continue to improve our environment comes from our nation’s economic success – the reason our environmental progress will continue, is because we have proven that environmental protection and economic growth go hand in hand, and the President understands this. When I accepted the position of EPA Administrator, President Bush charged me with accelerating the pace of environmental protection while maintaining the nation’s economic competitiveness – and we are doing just that.
Businesses, that once believed they had to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy, have taken note.
EPA has not just changed the way America’s businesses look, we’ve changed the way America’s businesses look at their role in environmental protection.
Today, a growing number of companies are finding that their customers, both in the U.S. and around the world, have high expectations for how products or services they purchase affect the environment. In many cases, we are seeing that companies, which are thinking and acting progressively on environmental issues, have a competitive edge.
EPA is working hand-in-hand with many businesses to voluntarily reduce their environmental impacts - in cost-effective ways, through programs like Climate Leaders, which started under Administrator Whitman.
Leading companies are proving, that doing what’s good for the environment, is also good for business.
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Detroit auto show. I noted with interest several exhibits for “luxury hybrid” cars. Even a year ago, I don’t think too many people would have equated fuel efficiency, with luxury. Companies are seeing they can invest in the environment, and at the same time, boost their bottom lines.
And it’s not just about the bottom line. Companies are embracing corporate stewardship as a way to keep their workers healthy, advance the reputation of their organizations, and enhance the quality of life for people in their communities.
And communities themselves are taking that stewardship one step further.
The late Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” The same is true for the environment - “All environmental actions are local.” Since 1970, state, tribal and local governments have become the front-line champions for the environment. Together, we have built an environmental infrastructure -dedicated to solving challenges at the local level.
EPA has not just changed the way communities look, we have changed the way communities look at their own environmental responsibility.
Communities with environmental challenges in their backyards once said, “Let the federal government handle it.” Today, these same communities are not just actively engaged, they are driving the process to deliver environmental results for their citizens.
By promoting a culture of collaboration over conflict, EPA is also working with our community leaders and non-governmental organizations to usher in the next era of environmental protection. Today, through efforts like our Brownfields program, launched under Administrator Browner, communities are taking problem properties and transforming them into local assets.
By empowering people to work together to revitalize and rehabilitate their communities, EPA is helping to convert waste sites back into something of pride.
It gives people pride when they can turn an industrial site into a grassy park. It gives people pride when they can transform a landfill into a golf course. And it gives people pride when they can turn a rail corridor into a recreational trail. When individual citizens are proud of their communities, they are invested in each other - and in the future of their neighborhoods.
Individuals – that’s what it’s all about.
EPA has changed the way each and every individual looks at how their own personal actions impact our shared environment.
As consumers, we look for companies who produce goods with minimal environmental footprints, like energy efficient products.
As community members, we look to our state, tribal, and local governments to do everything in their power to protect the air, water and land.
As neighbors, we look to our fellow citizens to be careful of what is poured down their drains or sprayed on their lawns.
And most importantly, as individuals, we increasingly see ourselves as guardians of our nation’s environment.
And who better represents this individual commitment than the employees that make up the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – you.
It says so much about this Agency and about our mission that we have all gathered here to commemorate EPA’s accomplishments over the past 35 years. At EPA, we have an extraordinary mission. Our job of protecting human health and the environment, touches the lives and well-being of every American – from Puerto Rico to Alaska, from Maine to Hawaii.
As EPA employees, we have a tough job. We are part of a nation-wide effort to clean-up and protect the environment, for today and for the future. And as we all know, this isn’t an easy task, but it is one we are personally dedicated to. We identify with the mission. We want to be here. We want to make a difference.
It’s more than being a public servant – an honorable endeavor in its own right. Working here means that our individual actions, day in and day out, affect the health of our physical environment, and the well-being of millions of people in the United States and throughout the world.
I have been with EPA almost all of my professional life, 25 years, but if you can believe it, there are people who have called EPA “home” since its doors opened. That’s right, there are people here who have been with EPA all 35 years, 212 employees to be exact, and many of them are with us today. So now, I would like to ask them to stand and be recognized for their outstanding service to the Agency and the country.
Building on your legacy, it is my hope that in the next 35 years, EPA will not only continue to change the way our environment looks, it will continue to change the way we look at our environment.
Teddy Roosevelt was the first American president to understand the importance of conserving our national heritage, our physical landscape. He once said, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”
President Roosevelt recognized then, just as we recognize now, that protecting the environment is not just about today. Every day, parents prepare their children for the future. Every day, we should prepare the future for our children.