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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Remarks Prepared for Delivery World Fuels Conference Washington, DC

09/20/2000
UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20460




Carol M. Browner, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency

Remarks Prepared for Delivery
World Fuels Conference
Washington, DC
Sept. 20, 2000

Thank you Fred for that introduction. And I want to thank you for all your hard work in putting this conference together.

For years Fred has been a leader, bringing together industry, government and environmental groups -- both here and around the world – to talk about energy and the environment. As Fred has said: “Environmental progress and economic growth can – and should – go hand in hand.”

Again Fred, I thank you for all you have done – and all you will do through your continuing leadership on these issues.

And good morning to all of you. It’s a pleasure to be here at the 18th Annual World Fuels Conference. I’ve enjoyed working with so many of you. I know many of you will be joining us at this evening’s event: America’s Clean Air Celebration -- A Century of Progress.

A large part of that progress is thanks to the Clean Air Act, which turns 30 this year and is one of our great success stories. And by our success, I don’t simply mean for the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s a success we all share – industry, state and local governments, environmentalists and – most importantly – all of our families that now breathe cleaner, healthier air.

When we work to protect our air . . . our land . . . our water, we are also laying the foundation for a prosperous economy -- and a healthy future for all.

But while we’ve made progress, the job is not done. Challenges come as sure as a new sunrise is out on the horizon. And I believe the challenges ahead may be among the greatest we’ve ever faced.

Looking back, you can almost pick the precise date that set us on the path we travel now. That date: August 27, 1859. On that day a former railroad conductor named Edwin Drake drilled a 69-foot hole into the ground near Titusville, Pennsylvania -- and struck oil.

Now oil had been known about going back to ancient times. But Drake was the first to find a commercially viable way to extract it.

Oil wells and refineries quickly sprang up around the world. And soon all sorts of uses were found for refined petroleum: lubricants, lamp oils, varnishes, lacquer, patent leather, oil cloth. The list goes on and on.

But there was one dangerous, highly explosive substance left over after the refining process -- gasoline. No one was sure what to do with it.

Gasoline a “waste product!”

Well, that time didn’t last long. Inventors around the world saw the value of an energy source like gasoline.

Within a year of the discovery of oil -- a year! -- the first internal combustion engine was built. And two years after that, the first gasoline-powered vehicle was sputtering down a road in France.

That first automobile poked along at a mere mile per hour. But the speed of change that followed was dramatic.

Soon cars made travel easier. Trucks made shipping more efficient. Tractors led to a revolution in agriculture. The Wright Brothers hooked a small gasoline engine to what was essentially a glider -- and we had powered flight. And methods of mass production were introduced to bring all these new products to consumers at affordable prices.

Soon distance diminished. And time was tamed.

But that progress had a price. Pollution.

Remember what it was like just 30 years ago? Cities and towns were often hidden under shrouds of dirty air. And sunsets through smoggy skies took on an eerie glow.

The public wanted action. In 1970, a grassroots environmental movement swept over the nation and we held our first Earth Day. Before the end of the year Congress had passed the Clean Air Act of 1970.

And as the year neared its end, the President created the Environmental Protection Agency to put this law -- and others to follow -- to work protecting the health of our families.

Our progress since then -- Dramatic! Following the passage of the Clean Air Act and subsequent amendments, emissions of the six major pollutants have dropped by 31 percent.

And a large part of that progress is certainly due to the work of both the automobile and refining industries, as well as public health and environmental organizations.

Cars are 95 percent cleaner now, and phasing out leaded gasoline meant a 98% reduction in lead levels in the air, protecting millions of children from serious, permanent learning disabilities.

But the challenges continued. This Administration saw that clearly.

Ironically, the ease of travel the automobile offered has made our journeys more tedious as we moved farther and farther away from our traditional urban centers.

Even though our cars are cleaner than in 1970, the number of cars on the road has almost doubled. We estimate that all this extra driving will -- in just 10 to 12 years -- overtake all the gains we have made in reducing tailpipe emissions over the past quarter century.

Among the consequences:

The Centers for Disease Control reports that in one 15-year period, asthma rates jumped by 75 percent -- affecting 15 million Americans. But it was the children who were hit the worst. Children under five years old, for instance, suffered a 160 percent increase in asthma rates. And now Asthma is the most prevalent chronic disorder for children under 17.

And our national parks -- the Smokies, the Grand Canyon and Shenandoah Valley – our great natural treasures – are often hidden under a polluted haze.

Vistas treasured for generations may be lost to the next.

This Administration worked to address these problems on several fronts -- working with states and industry to reduce emissions from old coal-burning generation and industrial plants that contribute to smog and regional haze.

But our automobiles had to be part of this solution as well. We have come too far over the past 30 years to watch all our hard work drift away on clouds of soot and smog belching from our tailpipes.

And you responded. Working together we have risen to this challenge by setting new standards that begin at the refinery and end at the exhaust pipe -- treating fuels and engines as one complete system for the first time.

When we finalize our rule to reduce pollution from heavy-duty diesel engines and fuels later this year, we will have completed a package of reforms that -- for the first time ever -- will result in cleaner engines and fuels for just about everything on wheels -- from cars and SUVs to heavy diesel trucks and buses.

Not only will manufacturers build even cleaner cars, but for the first time, sport utility vehicles and light-duty trucks will be held to the same national pollution standard as automobiles.

On top of that, refiners will be producing cleaner fuels that contain less sulfur for gasoline and diesel.

Imagine this if you will. When these rules take effect, the environmental effect would be as if 166 million cars and 13 million diesel trucks quietly pulled off the road and parked.

But they won’t be parked. They’ll all be on the job -- truckers hauling our groceries to market, families hauling their food back home. There will just be less pollution from both.

And we’ve done all this in a common-sense, cost-effective way. We worked with both the automotive and refining sectors in developing these proposals. We also consulted with states, environmental groups, and air quality and health experts.

These clean air gains can all be achieved using or perfecting existing technologies. For instance, they will add as little $100 to the price of a passenger vehicle and only a penny or two to the price of gasoline. A small price to pay for such dramatic improvements in air quality.

I applaud the work of the many of you in this room who helped bring this about – all of you who worked to ensure that a breath of fresh air is the right of all our families.

Now for many of you here today, the work we do in partnership has focused cleaner air. But there is more we have done at EPA. But – as is always the case – there is more that remains.

While we’ve made dramatic progress since the Clean Water Act, this Administration has announced a plan to clean up rivers, lakes and streams -- making them swimmable and fishable again.

We will do this lake by lake, bay by bay and river by river, helping states and communities tailor their plans to each unique body of water.

We’ve completed the clean up of more than three times as many Superfund sites in eight years as the previous Administrations did in 12. Shortly we will hit a total of 750 cleanups.

We are cleaning properties known as brownfields. We have provided about $160 million in grants to more than 500 communities. This has helped leverage more than $2 billion in public and private funds, creating thousands of new jobs.

So is the job done yet? I’m sorry -- no!

Thirty years ago, many thought environmental protection was something we could put on the national “to-do” list – work the problem – solve it – and then check it off and say: “Job well done. The environment and public health is protected.”

Now we know it doesn’t work that way.

Protecting the environment is a duty we hold in perpetuity. All of us here have helped lay a foundation. But finality is an illusion – almost like parallel lines meeting at the horizon. It doesn’t happen.

But again, we need to look to the horizon and beyond, because that’s where the solutions to these challenges lie. As our reach should exceed our grasp, so must our vision extend beyond plain view.

And the problem lies out there now is global warming. This is not some distant challenge. It is here today. And it is an economic challenge as well as an environmental one.

More than 2,000 of the world's experts on the global environment have told us that the effects of climate change can be predicted - sea levels will rise, storms will intensify, skin cancers will increase and now-productive farmland shrivel and fail.

We cannot wait to see these predictions come true before we act. We cannot wait for another thousand -- or a hundred thousand -- or a million data points to verify.

By then the consequences will be irreversible. And the effects devastating -- to the global economy and the health of every man, woman and child on this Earth.

I have a lot of respect for engineers, but I have never seen one that can reverse a rising sea level. As ever more severe hurricanes start pummeling our coasts, no amount of scientific studies will turn them away.

Confronting this problem will require a new level of political will. A new level of commitment. And a new level of leadership.

This will, this commitment, this leadership must come from our next President . . . the Congress. . . state and local governments . . . business and industry . . . all of us coming together to solve challenges greater than any we have faced thus far.

This Administration has taken the first step by teaming up with industry on the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles – vehicles that not only burn cleaner but that would get triple the gas mileage of today’s conventional cars.

There were several exciting developments this year related to automobile energy efficiency. U.S. automakers have displayed concept, mid-size cars that get between 70 and 80 miles per gallon.

Several manufacturers have already started selling high-mileage hybrid vehicles. And, perhaps most important, others have voluntarily pledged to increase the fuel efficiency of their sport utility vehicles.

And the chance for zero-emission vehicles using fuel cell technology continues to be promising. Imagine, vehicles that pass by leaving only a trail of water vapor, rather than clouds of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants.

Fuel cell technology – once perfected – would not be limited to our vehicles. Our homes and offices could also be powered by this clean, abundant and renewable energy source.

With these new technologies will come not only environmental benefits -- economic opportunities as well.

Make no mistake, there is a demand for these kind of innovations -- not just in this country, but around the world. Many of you in this room already know this and are already moving your companies towards greener products and production methods.

You are making the smart business move. Surveys show consumers want these environmentally friendly products.

And both economists and health professionals tell us we need them. If we fail to take the lead on these new technologies, we will be buying them from the nations that do.

So I end as I began. When we work for a healthy environment -- when we work to protect public health -- we are working for a strong, thriving economy.

Now I know you are going to hear from some corners that this simply can’t be done. These technologies will never work. They are not affordable. We’re going to wreck the economy.

Well . . . when you hear that . . . I want you to think back to that hole in the ground back in 1859. I want you to think about how one simple discovery -- oil -- led to another . . . and another . . . and another -- and literally remade our world.

The generations that came before us didn’t just embrace new technologies. They pursued them with a single-mindedness that laid the foundations for the prosperity we enjoy today.

Morse, Bell, Edison, the Wrights, Ford -- I don’t even need to say their first names and you and I both know who they are and what they did.

And of course, Edwin Drake.

If the day ever comes when we look to the horizon -- and beyond -- and say: “It can’t be done;” we will have dishonored our past . . . and devalued our future.

Let’s meet these challenges. And then let’s master them. As we done so many times before.

The industries and organizations represented in this room have shown they were up to it in the past. But it’s a new day. A new challenge. Let’s go build a healthy future of the generations to come.

We’ve done it before. We can do it again.

Thank you.