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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

National Conference of Black Mayors

04/25/1997
                 Carol M. Browner, Administrator
              U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


                  Remarks Prepared for Delivery
              National Conference of Black Mayors

                      St. Louis, Missouri
                         April 25, 1997



     Thank you, Mayor Cleaver, for that introduction.  It's a special pleasure to be in your home state, and in Mayor Bosley's home city -- and to join all of you to review progress and to set a course for a new century.

     This week, Americans celebrated Earth Day -- which is also a time to take stock in how far we've come -- in this case, protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land on which we live -- and to consider the challenges before us.

     The first Earth Day, in 1970, was one of the largest demonstrations of public opinion in the history of our country.  It was a day on which 20 million Americans -- from all walks of life -- stood up to say: "We must save our natural heritage.  We must save our environment."

     Since that time, the work we have done has resulted in great improvements.

     We no longer have rivers catching on fire.  Bodies of water that used to be virtual sewage dumps are now vital, thriving places where people swim and fish.  Others are on the rebound.

     Our skies are cleaner.  In city after city, the air is healthier to breathe.

     Toxic pollution from industry has declined steadily.  Fewer children are poisoned by lead -- because we took the measures necessary to reduce the threat of lead in the environment.

     We're cleaning up more of the nation's hazardous waste dumps -- in fact, more in the last four years than in the previous 12 years combined.

     In cities and neighborhoods across the country, Americans are accepting their responsibility to join together -- with businesses large and small, with schools, community groups and all levels of government -- to address their local environmental challenges and build a brighter, safer, healthier world to pass on to their children.

     That's what the new generation of environmental protection is all about.  That is the Clinton-Gore vision for the environment -- standards that are second to none, vigorous enforcement of those standards, and giving the American people the tools to reduce pollution in their own communities.

     Just this week, President Clinton issued new rules expanding the right of Americans to know about toxic substances that are being released into their air, land and water.  We believe that people know what's best for their own communities and, given the facts, they themselves will determine what is best to protect public health and the environment.

     It's happening all over the country.  In fact, we have found that putting information into the hands of citizens is one of the most effective non-regulatory things we can do to reduce harmful pollution.  Since this program began in 1986, facilities required to report toxic releases have reduced their emissions by 43 percent.

     That's why we're expanding the community's right-to-know.  More industries will be added to those required to report their toxic releases.  More information will be available from thousands of local facilities.

     Well-informed communities are our front-line allies.  It is good for neighborhoods.  It's good for your cities.  It's good for the country.

     It's going to help us pull together and work together to address the considerable environmental challenges your constituents still face.

     Because the job is not done.  We cannot rest.  We still face tremendous environmental and public health challenges.

     Forty percent of our rivers, lakes, and streams are still not suitable for fishing or swimming.

     Millions of Americans get their drinking water from systems that violate public health standards.

     One in four Americans -- including 10 million children -- still lives within four miles of a toxic dump site.

     Many scientists suspect that environmental factors are at least partly to blame for the steady increase over the last two decades of the most common types of childhood cancer.

     We recognize that -- while these environmental challenges face all Americans -- many citizens have expressed particular concerns about environmental and public health protection in minority communities and low-income communities across the country.  This Administration has heeded the call from local leaders who feel that their cities, their towns, and their neighborhoods are disproportionately burdened by environmental and public health standards.

     As you all know, three years ago, President Clinton issued his Executive Order on Environmental Justice -- directing EPA and other federal agencies to identify and address the environmental and human health concerns in minority communities and low-income communities, to ensure that federal programs impacting public health and the environment are non-discriminatory, and to promote wider public access to information.

     Following up on that directive, I have established environmental justice as one of EPA's top guiding principles  -- to ensure that environmental justice is a part of everything we do -- and to intensify our commitment to protecting all communities and to provide all our people with clean air, pure water, land that is safe to live on, food that is safe to eat -- regardless of who they are, how much money they have, or where they live.

     Now, what does this commitment mean for your cities and to citizens who have expressed environmental justice concerns?

     Let me give you a few examples.

     The President is proposing a substantial increase in EPA's budget for the next fiscal year.  A large portion of that increase is targeted to doubling the pace of cleanup of America's worst toxic waste dumps -- many of which are located in America's inner cities, where they pose a health threat to residents and an obstacle to economic redevelopment and revitalization.

     No child should have to grow up next to a toxic waste dump.  That is our vision.  And with your support we're going to meet our goal of ridding this country of another 500 toxic waste dumps by the year 2000.

     This administration is also committed to funding the expansion of the Brownfields program, which has thus far helped scores of communities pull together the resources to clean up their old, abandoned industrial sites and restore them to productive use.

     We know, as you know, that these sites hold neighborhoods back.  They are barriers to economic progress.  And we know -- from working with local officials like Mayor Bosley here in St. Louis, Mayor Schmoke in Baltimore and others throughout the country -- that this initiative can bring new life to neighborhoods plagued by brownfields.

     As just one example, not far from where we are today, a Brownfields pilot grant is helping the City of St. Louis fund the assessment, clean up and eventual redevelopment of a 26-acre site known as the Dr. Martin Luther King Business Park.  Businesses have expressed interest in locating in this area -- but thus far they've been dissuaded by concerns over lingering, low-level environmental contamination that may have been left behind by previous facilities that have since left the area.

     These problems can be overcome.  That's what the Brownfields initiative is all about -- helping cities bring together businesses, local residents and all levels of government to remove these obstacles to economic redevelopment.  It's going to mean jobs for area.  In fact, it is estimated that at least half the jobs created in the Martin Luther King Business Park will be held by low to moderate-income people.

     I want to commend Mayor Bosley and the city for its work.  It's showing a lot of promise.  And EPA is proud to have a role in it.  .

     Our intention is to expand the Brownfields initiative so that many, many other cities can launch similar redevelopment efforts.

     One of the ways we hope to do it -- in addition to more funding -- is by making information our Brownfields program available to those of you who represent smaller towns and cities.  In fact, last year, EPA awarded a grant to the National Conference of Black Mayors to be used precisely for that purpose -- getting you the information and assistance you need to build the kinds of partnerships that will redevelop your own brownfields areas.

     Increasing the flow of information to cities, communities, and private citizens -- giving you the tools to improve your quality of life as you see fit -- is a very important part of our administration's commitment to make environmental and public health protection work for everyone.

     The toxics release initiative I mentioned a few moments ago is only part of that commitment.

     In everything from Superfund cleanup to drinking water protection -- from ensuring that our food is safe to eat and our air is safe to breathe -- in virtually everything EPA does to protect public health and the environment -- our mission is to ensure that people can get the facts, that they are informed, and that they can get involved in the task of making their neighborhoods safer, healthier, and better places to live, work and raise a family.

     Knowledge is power.  That is an essential underpinning of our democracy.

     Yes, this nation has made great strides in environmental protection.  But we are not finished.  Let us continue to work together, let us redouble our efforts, and let us be ever more steadfast in our determination to ensure that no one is left behind.

     Thank you and best of luck to you all.