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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Princeton University , Princeton, New Jersey

02/20/2003
Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
at
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey

February 20, 2003


Thank you for that introduction. I = m pleased to be with you this afternoon.

I want to thank Eli (Goldsmith) for inviting me to Princeton B and point out that I = m here today even though he didn = t give me a discount on my order.

I don = t know how many of you know this, but one of the privileges that comes with being New Jersey= s governor is serving as an ex-officio trustee of the University. So while my gender rendered me ineligible for admission to Princeton when I finished high school in 1964, thirty years later the verdict of New Jersey = s voters automatically made me a member of Princeton = s Board of Trustees.

Of course, when I went to Washington to serve in the President = s Cabinet, I not only had to resign my position as governor, I also lost my seat on Princeton= s board. My brother, Dan Todd, Class of > 61, thought that was the greater sacrifice.

But as a former trustee B and an honorary member of my father = s Class of > 22 B I like to think that I am part of that long tradition that Woodrow Wilson called, A Princeton in the nation = s service. @

As you know, Princetonians do have a long history of serving our country B and you will, in your own time, add to that history as tomorrow = s leaders. This university helps populate the leadership ranks of business, government, and academia in the United States.

One of the reasons Princeton has long succeeded in grooming people to assume positions of leadership is because your time here helps you develop your ability to think B really think B for yourself.

That = s one of the enduring values of a liberal education B learning to marshal the facts at hand in support of an argument, and then being able to use those facts and the conclusions you draw from them to inform B and persuade B others.

One of the greatest challenges I have as administrator of the EPA is ensuring that the facts about this Administration = s environmental policies reach the public so we can have that informed debate.

It goes without saying that the Bush Administration = s political opponents believe that one of our areas of greatest political vulnerability is the environment B and that they mean to exploit that vulnerability for their own political gain.

I don = t have a problem with that B it = s how politics are and have always been conducted. And there = s no doubt that this Administration and its opponents do advocate different approaches to achieving environmental progress.

For our part, we believe that the command and control model which has long dominated federal environmental policy making is no longer the best way to achieve environmental progress. We advocate a more inclusive approach to environmental policy-making B a approach that recognizes that after 30 years of progress, most Americans share certain fundamental environmental goals.

We also believe that the best way to gauge the success of environmental policy is to measure the results it brings to the environment. It = s not enough to measure process B how many fines were levied, how many law suits filed, how many new regulations were written B if you can = t also point to measurable improvement in the state of the environment.

So there = s no misunderstanding, let me be clear on one point B environmental enforcement is an important tool, and one we should not hesitate to use when it= s called for. As I said at my confirmation hearing, we will use the carrot, but we will not retire the stick. No one should conclude that we will not vigorously enforce the law.

Today, however, as we survey the environmental landscape, we see a different scene from that which existed at the dawn of the modern environmental age. All across America, we see a wide acceptance of the potential non-traditional partnerships hold for environmental progress. No longer is the federal government all alone on the leading edge of environmental advances. We have plenty of company in our state and local partners, and even among leading businesses, who recognize that good environmental stewardship is also a good business practice.

As has often been true in the environmental arena, progress is driven from the bottom up, not the top down. That = s why President Bush and I B both of us former governors B want to ensure that the approaches that are working so well at the state and local levels are also used at the federal level.

Unfortunately, there are those who falsely characterize this change in approach as a weakening of the federal government = s commitment to the environment. Whatever their motives, that change alone is seen as reason enough to attack every proposal and decision we make. Nowhere has that been more obvious than in the reaction to our clean air policies.

In the three decades since President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, America = s air quality has improved significantly. Over that time, the emissions of six key air pollutants has been cut by 30 percent, even as the economy has grown by nearly 150 percent.

This is laudable B but there is more to do. Poor air quality continues to threaten people = s health, shroud once-clear vistas in a murky haze, and damage the environment.

The Clean Air Act, which helped make much of the initial progress possible, is also, in many ways a classic example of command and control from Washington. It gives EPA substantial authority to proscribe very specific actions to reduce air pollution in very specific ways and relies on the threat of punishment to promote compliance.

Certainly, the Clean Air Act has done much of what it was designed to do. But over the years, it has brought diminishing returns. If we are going to achieve the next generation of environmental progress, we need to amend the Clean Air Act to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

One way is to address the pollution emitted by older manufacturing facilities and coal- burning power plants, which the current Clean Air Act does not adequately address. President Bush has proposed two new solutions to address this challenge.

The first is to reform what are called the New Source Review rules that govern upgrades to any facility that emits certain pollutants.

The second is to require mandatory reductions in the three most noxious pollutants emitted by America = s older power plants.

There = s been a lot of confusion about these two proposals, some of it, unintentional, some of it, I think, a deliberate attempt by those who consistently oppose the President to distract people from the real issues.

For example, one group claimed, A The Bush administration recently announced its intent to relax air pollution laws.@

Another said our proposals would actually allow for A increases of the three major ...pollutants over current levels. @

A third is arguing that our Clear Skies Initiative relies on A voluntary @ reductions.

None of these claims is correct, and I = d like to set the record straight.

First, let = s look at New Source Review B or NSR B a program that was designed to require manufacturing facilities and power plants to modernize their pollution controls when upgrading their facilities beyond routine maintenance. It sounds good in theory. But it hasn =t worked that well in practice.

The unintended result of NSR has actually been to discourage many of these facilities from making any upgrades to their plants because they cannot afford the expense of upgrading their entire facility.

The ambiguity about when NSR does or does not apply has made it very difficult to enforce, and has, in the end, probably resulted in more litigation than pollution reduction. As a result of this all-or-nothing requirement, too often we= ve gotten nothing.

Recently, we finalized five reforms to New Source Review B reforms that were developed through a process started by the Clinton Administration nearly a decade ago. These reforms will remove the disincentives that have actually inhibited the installation of pollution controls at many older manufacturing plants.

Our NSR reforms will not , as some have charged, make it easier for older power plants to avoid adding new pollution-reduction equipment because they basically don = t apply to older power plants. The simple fact is that all our modeling shows that NSR reforms will result in less air pollution, not more.

Of course, this hasn = t stopped the charge that we are gutting the Clean Air Act through a giveaway to King Coal. And while we have proposed some further reforms to New Source Review that will affect older power plants, those reforms are only proposals. They are right now open for public comment. In fact, we recently extended the comment period by an additional 60 days, and will hold five public meetings around the country, so that everyone who wants to comment has every opportunity to do so. Nothing will go final until we have evaluated and considered all the comments we receive.

But New Source Review reform is just one part of the President = s clean air policy.

The real cornerstone of this Administration = s clean air efforts is our Clear Skies Initiative B a proposal that will achieve mandatory reductions of 70 percent in three of the most noxious air pollutants emitted by power plants B nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury.

Clear Skies is aimed directly at power plants including those older, coal-burning power facilities that were exempted by the original Clean Air Act and have largely been given a free ride now for 30 years. Currently, the law leaves it up to regulators to decide B on a subjective, case-by-case basis B what a particular power plants needs to do to comply with the law.

Clear Skies will remove that subjectivity by setting a clear, objective standard for mandatory reductions. It will also remove the regulatory uncertainty that has stifled the adoption of modern pollution-reduction technology and has clogged the courts almost as much as it has clogged the air.

Clear Skies also moves us away from traditional command and control by using the power of the market to achieve results. Rather than setting individual targets on particular smokestacks, it sets mandatory reductions on the industry as a whole B and gives facilities flexibility in how it meets those reductions.

This approach is not untried. It is modeled on the acid rain program that was part of the Clean Air Act amendments passed in 1990. That program has had enormous success in reducing the threat of acid rain. It has achieved significant reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions B the pollutant that leads to acid rain B with near-universal compliance and at lower costs than anticipated.

The Acid Rain program also proves that when government sets tough goals but provides flexibility, you can successfully marry a company = s self-interest with the interests of the environment.

Over the next ten years, the Clear Skies Initiative will remove 35 million more tons of NOx, SO2 , and mercury from the air than we would achieve under the current Clean Air Act. We will do it without inviting endless litigation and without sending energy costs through the roof.

It= s for these reasons that the Adirondack Council, a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting the 6 million acres of forest that make up New York= s Adirondack Park, supports the President = s Clear Skies Initiative. As their executive director said last month, A By making deep cuts in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury pollution from the nation= s smokestacks, we can protect our public land and waters, and improve the lives of tens of thousands of Americans suffering from pollution-related lung disease.@

Yet, despite these benefits, our two-pronged plan is still being attacked as a rollback of the Clean Air Act. The only way one can make that argument is to focus solely on process and to totally ignore progress. By definition, there is no way you can characterize a proposal that produces greater pollution reduction than does current law a roll-back B unless you are only looking at process.

Does Clear Skies provide greater flexibility in how pollution reduction goals are met? Yes, it does, and that = s a change in process. But will it also make the air cleaner than if we maintain the status quo? Yes, it will B and that = s progress, real measurable progress.

There = s no doubt that this administration, in trying to improve the state of our environment is also trying to change the way we approach environmental policy, and that threatens some people. But as Woodrow Wilson said, A If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

At the end of the day, I believe the success or failure of environmental policy should be judged on what it has done for the environment, not what it has done to the environmental bureaucracy. Has it made the air cleaner? Has it made the water purer? Has it left our land better protected? Because when it comes to the health of the environment, and of all those who depend on it, that's what really matters.

I have tried, today, to inform you about just one aspect of this Administration = s environmental policy. I hope that, in doing so, I have also managed to persuade at least some of you of this Administration = s sincere intent to act as responsible stewards of our environment. If you = re still not sure, I hope that you will take the time to gather additional facts and listen to both sides so that you can make an informed judgment.

That = s an obligation we all have as citizens of this great Republic and that you especially have as our country = s future leaders. So again, I thank you for inviting me to be with you today. I look forward to hearing more from you in the years ahead.

Thank you. Now I would be happy to take your questions.