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Neuse River Pfiesteria Event

08/06/1998
Carol M. Browner, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Neuse River Pfiesteria Event

                         Washington DC
                         August 6, 1998
                               
                               
     Thank you Wayne. I salute your attention to this very serious problem in our nation's waterways.

     In fact, let me commend everyone here today -- and all the local, state, and federal officials and scientists who have been working so closely together to solve the problem of these harmful algal blooms, these threats to our nation's rivers, lakes, and coasts.

     And I especially want to thank the Vice President for his steadfast leadership on this issue. He has been the driving force that has brought us all together to find ways -- in partnership -- to deal with this extremely difficult situation. What we announce today is a step forward in his and the President's vision of cleaner, healthier, and safer waterways across the nation.

     Since the Clean Water Act was passed more than a quarter century ago, we have made great progress for clean water in this nation. We have prevented billions of pounds of toxic chemicals from entering our waterways. Two-thirds of our nation's waters that have been surveyed are now suitable for swimming and fishing compared to only one-third in 1972.

     But many difficult challenges remain, including polluted runoff. This is one of the most serious environmental and public health threats facing this nation.

     In February, President Clinton announced the Clean Water Action Plan -- our national blueprint to finish the job of cleaning up and restoring the nation's waters -- our rivers, lakes, streams, underground aquifers, and estuaries.

     This is 110 actions and $2.3 billion over five years to address our remaining water quality
problems: polluted runoff, the loss of wetlands, the restoration of our waterways.

     It gives Americans the tools, flexibility, and resources they need to clean up their waters community by community, watershed by watershed, estuary by estuary.     The clean water plan builds on this administration's philosophy of bringing people together -- industry, agriculture, environmentalists, communities, and every level of government -- to find common-sense, cost-effective solutions.

     And already we are taking steps under the plan to control runoff and combat Pfiesteria.

     Our first action was a draft strategy to protect public health and the environment from manure produced at animal feeding operations.
     
     Animal waste can contain disease-causing micro-organisms, as well as phosphorus and nitrogen -- the nutrients that are linked to Pfiesteria outbreaks. Six out of 10 polluted water bodies are contaminated, at least in part, with animal waste runoff from feedlots.

     We have some 450,000 feedlots in this country. Many hold thousands of animals, and by today's standards, in some livestock operations, even that's a small number. One pork operation has plans to expand to two and a half million swine.

     The Agriculture Department and EPA are working hand in hand with livestock growers to better manage runoff from animal feedlots -- so that we can prevent more fish kills and protect our sources of drinking water -- our rivers, lakes, and streams.

     Last year, EPA provided a startup grant of $100,000 to help North Carolina establish a Rapid Response Team that can react swiftly to these outbreaks. And we are working with our federal partners -- particularly the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association -- to provide more money and more research.

     We've provided resources to affected states for emergency assistance and teams of experts to help monitor water quality, analyze data, and address health effects on people.

     And we are coordinating federal research into Pfiesteria, so that we can learn more about this mysterious organism -- what triggers these outbreaks and how they affect human health.

     It was federal and state supported research that first identified this microbe and its toxic effects.  And, at this moment, EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are working with the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies to coordinate our research agenda -- to make sure we're working collaboratively and doing everything possible to get speedy answers to the questions that all of us have about Pfiesteria.

     Unfortunately, as the President and Vice President move us forward on clean water, some members of Congress are holding us back. The Senate has cut our budget for state grants, and both houses have slashed clean water funding for our federal partners -- the Agriculture Department and NOAA, even voluntary programs to help local landowners improve water quality on their property.     This sends the wrong message to the American people. It tells them that their government is willing to put their health and environment in jeopardy. It tells them that we can put off indefinitely clean water for the American people. It tells them that programs that build partnerships and provide common-sense, cost-effective solutions are not worth funding.

     This administration is on the right path. In five and a half years, we have made truly exceptional progress in providing greater protections for the American people, in working in partnerships with the states and local governments, and in making the system work better for everyone. But the job is not done.

     Last year's Pfiesteria outbreaks in the Chesapeake Bay tributaries -- and the outbreaks in
North Carolina -- are wake-up calls -- and now we must answer those calls: We must remain vigilant. No parent should have to tell a child that the fish isn't safe to eat, and the water isn't clean enough to drink. No parent should have to bar a child from swimming in a river on a hot summer day.

     We must continue working together to ensure cleaner and healthier rivers, lakes and coastal waters for our children, and their children, and all the generations to come.

     Thank you.

     And now I would like to turn the floor over to Dr. Baker, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of our close federal partners in this fight against Pfiesteria. Dr. Baker...