Speeches By EPA Administrator
Administrator Johnson, Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner, Owensboro, KY01/26/2006
I’ve been working at EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. for 25 years now. But since becoming Administrator, I’ve realized that one of the most important things someone in Washington can do is to get out of Washington whenever possible.
You know that quote, “All politics is local?” Well, I like to think about the environment that way as well – “All environments are local.” The environment isn’t in the halls of EPA. The environment is out here, in places like Owensboro, Kentucky, where people actually live, work and raise a family. So it’s good to be away from Washington to see what’s really going on in communities throughout America.
I know that the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce has been serving your community for nearly a century. Due to the hard work, productivity and innovation of businesses like the ones in and around Owensboro, our nation’s economy continues to gain strength and momentum. The Bush Administration is building upon this economic future, and we appreciate the contributions of this Chamber to your community and to the country.
At the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, we are working to continue on this economic success. In the past, there are some who saw EPA as a source of conflict for the business community. But instead of being seen by some as a stumbling block to economic growth, today EPA is upholding environmental standards while working with individuals and industry to find solutions to our shared environmental challenges.
As some of you may know, this year at EPA, we are celebrating the Agency’s 35th Anniversary. Last week, we kicked off our anniversary, and at one point during one of my speeches, I noted that 35 years ago seems just like yesterday to me. Afterwards when I sat down, my wife leaned over and reminded me that 35 years ago, I was a scrawny 6-foot-3, 135-pound, 19 year old.
Well, I had to admit to her that maybe I’ve changed a little in 35 years … but thankfully, so has our nation’s environment.
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.
But looking back, we see 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.
Since our founding, EPA has led the nation-wide effort to clean-up and protect the environment, for today and for the future. And these successes are all around us. 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.
It is important to note, that during these environmental gains, our country’s gross domestic product has 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. Today, a growing number of companies are finding that their customers have high expectations for how products or services they purchase affect the environment. EPA is working hand-in-hand with many businesses to voluntarily reduce their environmental impacts - in cost-effective ways. Leading companies are proving, that doing what’s good for the environment, is also good for business.
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.
Over our 35 years of environmental progress, industry responded to EPA policies that provided incentives to clean up faster. Innovative policies, like the cap-and-trade system in the Acid Rain program, 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 that tackle mercury, soot and smog.
The environmental achievements based on market-based solutions are evident here in Owensboro. The Elmer Smith coal-fired powerplant achieved over 90-percent reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2004. Here is a real-world example of the success of the Acid Rain cap and trade program – instead of the government telling companies where and how to cut pollution, we tell them how much to cut and by when. They decide how to meet the goals. We give firm deadlines, and let them find the most innovative ways to meet the requirements, delivering results for business and the environment.
President Bush directed EPA to look at the success of facilities like Elmer Smith, and create an efficient, effective, long-term mechanism to achieve large-scale emission reductions across the country. As many of you know, this approach is called Clear Skies.
Clear Skies is legislation that sets tough new standards to dramatically cut emissions of key pollutants by 70-percent through the proven cap-and-trade approach. It provides certainty to the environment and to industry – delivering important health and environmental benefits, while advancing national energy security and promoting economic growth at a lower cost to American consumers.
In my 25 years at EPA, I’ve never seen anyone’s air getting cleaner in the courtroom. Our nation’s future air quality deserves the certainty of laws that cannot be easily amended or changed. The Agency is committed to working with Congress to pass Clear Skies legislation this session in order to protect American lungs, jobs, and pocket books.
By working with businesses to address our nation’s environmental and economic challenges, EPA is proving to companies they can invest in the environment, while boosting their bottom lines. 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. 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.
I am pleased that Kentucky is meeting this challenge. Just yesterday, EPA announced that Christian County, right next door to Owensboro, received approval from the Agency to be re-designated to attainment for the 8-hour ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard. This re-designation recognizes the hard work of state and local officials to implement emission control programs – ensuring that the residents of Christian County and the entire commonwealth of Kentucky are breathing cleaner, healthier air.
By promoting a culture of collaboration over conflict, EPA is 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, 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, when they can transform a landfill into a golf course, or when they can turn a rail corridor into a recreational trail.
The residents of Kentucky are benefiting from this investment in pride. Since the beginning of the Brownfields program, EPA has provided nearly $3.4 million dollars to the state and municipal governments to enhance their existing programs, conduct outreach activities and promote reuse of Brownfields sites. Together, with your state and local leaders, EPA is helping to put both property and people back to work in the commonwealth of Kentucky.
Collaboration over conflict is a constant theme of mine. Over EPA’s 35 years, we have learned that when working alone, environmental progress is limited. However, when we work in collaboration with our partners, our environmental successes can accelerate at a remarkable pace.
Collaboration is essential as we work to provide the American people with secure, sustainable water. The challenges of an aging water and wastewater infrastructure are not just an EPA challenge - a state challenge - or a local challenge — it is everyone’s challenge. Through the use of new technologies and effective, innovative approaches – like stewardship and collaboration – we can make better use of our collective resources, and move the nation’s water infrastructure down a pathway toward sustainability over the next 15 years.
15 years may seem like a long ways away. I know I for one, will be well into retirement in 15 years, but at EPA we realize that that today’s actions affect tomorrow’s environmental successes. While this includes the actions of companies and communities, one of the most profound changes we have made is in the way each American perceives their role in protecting the environment.
Over our 35 years, EPA has changed the way each and every individual looks at how their own personal actions today, impact our shared environment tomorrow.
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.
I want to thank everyone here who has been guardians of our environment, as a business leader, as a community leader, and as an individual leading by example.
Over the next 35 years, I hope, and I know my wife hopes, that I’m not the only one who has changed. Working together with leaders like you, we can not only continue to change the way our environment looks, we can continue to change the way we look at our environment.
Once again, I would like to thank you for inviting me to participate in you annual dinner. As business leaders of the greater Owensboro area, you play a huge role in the economic and environmental well-being of your region. Like I said before, President Bush charged me with accelerating the pace of environmental protection while maintaining the nation’s economic competitiveness. So I look forward to continuing our work together to make your community a healthy and economically-sound place to live, work and raise a family.
Thank you, and I wish you a successful 2006.