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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Business and Professional Women/USA National Conference

07/28/1998
Carol M. Browner, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Business and Professional Women/USA National Conference

                          Orlando, FL
                         July 28, 1998
                               

     Thank you Ms. Hart.

     As always, I am delighted to be back home in Florida, and I am delighted to be here today at the Business and Professional Women's National Conference. Let me give a heartfelt thanks to this smart, effective organization -- for its nearly 80 years of tireless advocacy on behalf of America's working women and their families.

     It's been 80 exciting years for women. Where once we had to hide our intelligence, hide our aspirations, hide our dreams -- today we are presented with boundless opportunity. We are astronauts, politicians, entrepreneurs. We are scientists, CEOs, and just plain professional working women. And still -- all the while -- we are mothers and daughters, sisters and spouses, and -- in my case -- a third-base coach for my son's baseball team.

     We women have always had a lot on our plates. Our lives are a constant balancing act -- I know that mine is. Children, work, family, and time for ourselves. We need all the help we can get -- to do a good job in all the roles we women have to play.

     That's one reason why I am so proud to serve in the Clinton-Gore administration, which has -- every step of the way -- worked to ensure that no woman is left behind, that no woman is denied access to this world of opportunity, that no woman must limit her choices to be whatever she chooses to be. I'm talking about the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Violence Against Women Act, student loan reform, focus on breast cancer and women's health.

     Our work to protect women continues and I thank the Business and Professional Women, and all of you here today, who have worked hand in hand with this administration to ensure our basic rights as American women -- and to ensure that we can all live to our fullest potential -- whatever we choose to be.

     As women, we face many issues important to our lives. And I am here to talk to you about just one of those issues -- toxic pollution in our environment. Pollution effects our health. It effects our families. It effects our businesses -- and just about everything else that is important to women in this country.

     Over the past 25 years, this nation has made great progress in protecting public health and the environment. Our waters are cleaner, our air healthier, our land freer from toxic chemicals.

     But we cannot say the job is done.  We cannot rest.  

     For one thing, too many women suffer needlessly from breast cancer and reproductive disorders. Too many of our children fall victim to childhood asthma.  And while we are not sure why these and certain other diseases are on the march in this country, many scientists believe that toxic chemicals in our environment are likely significant factors.

     This administration is forging a new generation of environmental and public health protection -- standards that are second to none, vigorous enforcement of those standards, and more information, the right tools, and greater flexibility so that the American people can take action to reduce pollution in their own communities.
     
     When I became the head of EPA, I learned, much to my surprise, that all too often, this country's environmental standards had been based on the average 154-pound man.  

     Safe pesticide exposures, drinking water and air standards -- all of these were set for the average adult male.  

     No one was asking, "Do these standards adequately protect the average woman? The average child?  A pregnant woman?  An elderly person?"

     Well, we must do better -- and we are doing better.

     This Administration made a fundamental change in how we approach the protection of public health. Today, when we set safety standards -- for drinking water, for eating fish, for pesticides -- we use a very different measure.  Today, we require that those standards be adequate to protect all people, including women, including children, including any group with a special sensitivity.

     When we protect our most vulnerable citizens, we protect every American.

     Now many of you might have heard about secondhand smoke in the news this past week -- when a judge ruled against EPA's study showing secondhand smoke causes cancer.

     Let me tell you that this ruling was on procedural problems with the technical aspects of EPA's study.  We at EPA stand by our science -- secondhand smoke poses very real, very serious health risks. And there is a body of convincing scientific evidence that supports our conclusion.  Almost every other major study and review -- conducted by major scientific organizations -- has not only confirmed, but strengthened, our finding that secondhand smoke causes cancer. These studies -- based on more recent data than our study -- even went beyond our report -- pointing to other health problems, such as arteriosclerosis.

     What's more, the tobacco industry -- and subsequently the court -- did not dispute the scientific findings of secondhand smoke's risk to children. Those risks are undisputed.

     EPA has found more than 300,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis every year in infants and young children exposed to secondhand smoke. We found 28,000 hospitalizations annually for children with asthma -- all because of secondhand smoke.  We are now seeing middle ear infections, SIDS, reduced lung function and symptoms of respiratory irritation such as coughing and wheezing in children -- all related to secondhand tobacco smoke.
 
     And so, with or without this court ruling -- the point remains the same: No parent should smoke around their child. No person should hesitate to protect themselves and their families from secondhand tobacco smoke. No state, city, restaurant, or bar should relax protections and lift bans on smoking.

     Secondhand tobacco smoke has real health consequences for people who do not smoke -- and we must all remain vigilant.

     Breathing polluted air hurts our health -- whether it's the unhealthy air we must breathe when others smoke around us, or the unhealthy air we've been seeing all across the country this summer. It's as simple as that.

     This is why President Clinton proposed the toughest action in a generation to protect Americans from outdoor air pollution -- new, updated public health air standards for smog and soot. These new standards together will protect 125 million Americans, including 35 million children, from the adverse health effects of breathing polluted air.  

     More specifically, they will prevent approximately 15,000 premature deaths, about 350,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and nearly a million cases of significantly decreased lung function in children.

     It is a top priority of the Clinton Administration to protect the American people -- especially our children -- from toxic pollution in our air, our water, and on our land.

     With our new Safe Drinking Water Act, we set tough public health standards to keep toxic pollution and raw sewage out of the sources of our drinking water -- out of our rivers, coastal waters, and lakes -- before the pollution enters our taps.

    Our new food safety law reduces dangerous pesticides on our foods and creates a single and more protective, health-based, children-first standard for all pesticides, all health risks, all foods.  

     And in both of these laws, we worked with Congress to put in a provision to require the testing of chemicals that disrupt the human endocrine system -- chemicals that change how our hormones function and could be linked to breast cancer and other diseases.

     We reduced toxic pollution from chemical plants by nearly 90 percent.  We took tough action against the burning of medical waste and other hazardous waste -- controlling 90 percent of the known sources of dioxin that accumulates in human tissue and in breast milk.  

     This Administration has cleaned up more Superfund toxic waste sites in the last five and half years than in the previous 12 years of the program.  And in the next four years, we will double the pace of clean-ups.

     Finally, I want to mention one last important way that this Administration is working with the people of this country to reduce pollution.  And that is to expand the public's right to know.

     Consider this:  Ten years ago, this country began to require that industrial facilities report to their communities about the toxic chemicals they were releasing into the environment.  And in those facilities required to report to the public -- even though our economy has grown tremendously -- toxic emissions have gone down by almost half.

     Well, we want more results like that.  This Administration has doubled the number of chemicals that must be reported.  We increased by 30 percent the number of facilities that have to report. Recently, the Vice President announced for the first time ever, we're going to require companies to conduct basic public health testing for the 3,000 chemicals that are most used in this country.

     And for the first time ever, we're going to require companies to report to the public about persistent chemicals that build up in human tissue and in breast milk.  

     Our work to protect the American people continues because this administration believes that no parent should have to tell a child on a warm summer day that the air is just too dirty to go outside. No parent should have to tell a child that the fish isn't safe to eat, or the water is too polluted for swimming. No parent should have to raise a child next to a toxic waste dump.

     Now I know that many people in the business community wonder about these tough standards -- Are they worth it? How will they effect the economy? How will they impact my business and my profession?"

     When we set about developing this new generation of environmental and public health protection we were guided by a fundamental belief -- that the economy and the environment go hand in hand, that one does not have to come at the cost of the other -- in fact, they are inextricably linked.

     We know this because in the last 25 years of environmental progress, our economy not only has grown -- it has soared. We have the toughest environmental and public health laws in the world -- and our gross domestic product has doubled in the last quarter century. We have not only eliminated our deficit, but today, we have a large budget surplus.

     Progress means that we can find common-sense solutions that both protect our environment and health and create jobs.

     And we arrive at these solutions because we have counted on what has long made this country great -- our creativity, innovation, our ingenuity.  We've rewarded those willing to do more than just an adequate job -- to go further, to push the envelope, and to create new ways to prevent or clean up pollution.  And we've forged partnerships -- between industries, governments, and communities -- partnerships that get the job done.

     Time and time again, we've proven this -- from our partnership with automakers for 70 percent cleaner cars, to our work with companies to cut energy use and costs in the fight against global warming, to redeveloping our cities' abandoned industrial properties to bring them back into productive use.

     And every step of the way, we're creating cutting-edge environmental technologies -- a new, booming business in America.

     Yes, we can have robust economic growth, and still safeguard the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land upon which we all live. We can protect our health, children, and families -- and still have healthy, thriving businesses.

     We as women must confront many difficult choices in our lives. But choosing between our desire for a safe and healthy community and our economic well-being is one we should never have to make.

     Now let me switch gears and address one of the questions I've been asked to speak to
today: how I got to where I am as head of the EPA.  I am often asked this -- from young women who want to know how to rise in their professions.

     My advice is simple: Be yourselves. Do what you care about. Do what's right for you. Work for people you believe in and on issues you care about. That, I believe, is the key to success.     I did not get to where I am today because I strategized from one job to the other. I didn't take a job thinking I'll be here for three years, then on to the next.

     Yes, I worked hard and took advantage of opportunities as they arose. Indeed, that's the nature of politics -- which is a great part of my profession. Congress changes. The White House changes. If I wanted to have a role where I would have a say in matters important to me -- then certainly I had to be flexible. In fact, when I was called to be the head of the state environmental agency here in Florida, my husband and I had to make the decision in just 36 hours!  Certainly, a flexible spouse helps a lot, too.

     But I believe that more than anything, I got to my position because the environment has always been a guiding passion in my life. I grew up on Florida's fabulous natural heritage -- its fresh water, clean air, and white sand. I grew up on the Everglades -- a wood stork taking flight against a sunset, an endless river of grass pulsing with life and stretching to the horizon.

     I want my child to grow up with the same quality of life that I did -- to breathe clean air, drink fresh water, and to be in awe of the Everglades -- and all the glorious landscapes across America. For me, this is the force driving me.

     Like many of you, I suspect, I also struggle with juggling all the important things in my life. Balance is perhaps the single most difficult thing working women must master -- and we all know that some days are better than others.

     There is no easy answer, no magic bullet. But I have found that balance comes best when I put my family first. Sure, we can work 20 hours a day, sleep little, eat little, and have no personal life. But ultimately, that doesn't serve anyone very well -- especially ourselves.

     I'm not saying I'm perfect. And I'm not saying that I've got it all figured out. As I said, some days are better than others. But when I keep my priorities straight -- when I put my husband and son first -- I do a better job at work -- my energy, my passion, my drive endures.  I am the longest standing administrator of the EPA in history, and this is one significant reason why.

     Winston Churchill said something in the thick of the war that has always inspired me and spurred me on in tough times. He said, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never -- in nothing great or small, large or petty -- never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."

     As women we must take this to heart -- we must never give up our hopes and dreams for a better, brighter future -- for ourselves and for our children and for all the generations to come. We deserve no less. Our families deserve no less.

     Thank you.