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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Congressional Black Caucus Environmental Justice Forum Washington, DC

09/11/1997
       Carol M. Browner, Administrator
             U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                               
                Remarks Prepared for Delivery
    Congressional Black Caucus Environmental Justice Forum
                        Washington, DC
                      September 11, 1997



     Thank you, Congressman Hastings, for inviting me to this important forum.  My thanks, as
well, to Congressmen Cummings and Lewis, and Congresswoman McKinney, for their leadership
on the issue of environmental justice -- one that is profoundly important to so many of our fellow
citizens.


     I want to commend the panelists, and all of you here today, for your commitment to
securing environmental justice in communities across the nation.


     This administration shares your concern and your commitment, and I am delighted to have
the opportunity to tell you some of the things we are doing to make good on that commitment.
   
    Over the past quarter-century, we have made great progress in protecting public health
and the environment -- in every community.


     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.  And, in the years
ahead, we will continue to make progress on clean air because this President has showed the
courage to stand up for the public interest and ensure that our air quality standards are strong
enough to protect the public health.


     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.


     But 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.


     And 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.


     That's why 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 giving the American people the tools to reduce pollution in their own communities.
   
    We believe that one of the most important tools we can give people is the "right-to-know"
about toxic pollutants in their own neighborhoods -- so they can take steps to protect themselves
and their families, and so they can take action to reduce pollution in their communities.


     Earlier this year, 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.  More
industries are being added to those required to report their toxic releases.  More information is
being required from thousands of local facilities.


     And we are determined to see that this important information gets into the hands of the
American people.


     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.


     In fact, we have found that putting information into the hands of citizens is one of the
most effective things we can do to reduce harmful pollution.  In fact, since 1988, when TRI
reporting began, industrial facilities required to report their toxic releases have reduced their
emissions by almost half.


     Armed with this information, 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.


     Let me speak directly to today's topic -- environmental and public health protection in
minority communities and low-income communities.


     This Administration has heeded the call from those who feel that their cities, their towns,
and their neighborhoods are disproportionately burdened by environmental and public health
threats.


     We are committed to environmental justice.

     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 in terms of EPA's agenda?

     How will it bring information and, most importantly, resources into communities that so
desperately need them to pursue their goals of environmental justice?


     Let me give you a few examples.

     For one, it means more money for cleaning up 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.  The President proposed a
substantial increase in EPA's budget for the next fiscal year -- with a large portion of that increase
being targeted to doubling the pace of toxic waste cleanup.


     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 in cities across the nation -- that this initiative can bring new life to neighborhoods plagued by brownfields.  This initiative is
helping bring jobs, a better life, and hope for the future to people in America's most distressed
neighborhoods.


     Unfortunately, you know and I know that sometimes, the legitimate environmental justice
concerns voiced by residents living in low-income or minority communities are not respected,
despite their best efforts to obtain critical environmental information and to make themselves
heard.  They are not always fully involved -- as they should be.  


     There are times when EPA has to step in and ensure that these concerns receive a proper
hearing.  And we are prepared to do that when the situation warrants it.


     For example, yesterday, I ordered the state of Louisiana to stop its air permits for a new
chemical plant in the town of Convent, a low-income, African-American community located in
that state's industrial corridor.


     I took this action, in part, because the local residents convinced us -- through their
petitions under the Clean Air Act -- that their concerns about being disproportionately subjected
to environmental hazards were not being adequately addressed.  


     Those permits are now on hold until the state takes action to ensure that Convent's
residents are fully involved in resolving the issues.  We are working with state officials to see that
this happens.  We are encouraged by their cooperation and their promise to find a mutually
acceptable resolution to this issue.  But we have also informed the state that, if the concerns of
local residents are not fully addressed, EPA will expedite its review of the complaint submitted by
the Convent citizens under the Civil Rights Act.
   
    We believe that these concerns can be resolved in a way that protects the health of the
community's residents and the environment and, at the same time, preserves economic
opportunities in the region.


     But everyone must work together.  And everyone must be included in the process.

     Again, that is an essential underpinning of this administration's philosophy on
environmental and public health protection.


     In everything from Superfund cleanup to drinking water protection -- from ensuring that
our air is safe to breathe and our food is safe to eat -- 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, that can get involved in the task of making their neighborhoods safer and
healthier -- and that their involvement matters.


     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.