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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Brownfields 2004 Conference in St. Louis, MO

09/20/2004
Thank you. I am pleased to join you at this remarkably successful Brownfields 2004 conference. The first conference of this sort, nearly 9 years ago, had only 750 people. Today we have about 5,000. This is a very strong indication of our success in making Brownfields restoration a reality. EPA is proud to be your partner.

Some months ago I was sitting in my study at home. I had purchased one of those CDs which had the greatest hits of the 60s and 70s. I had turned up the volume a little louder than I usually do, and was listening to the Rolling Stones, Chicago and even a clip by Jimi Hendrix. My fourteen year old son came in just as “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” by Cher began to play.

He said, “Who’s that?” I said it was Cher. He said, “She was around back then and she’s still around?” It spawned a conversation between me and my fourteen-year-old son about where I was in 1970. I was 19 years old in 1970. I had left home for the first time.

What an era that was – the Vietnam War, flower children, bell-bottom pants. It was also a period of time when environmentalism began to expand; it took root. For decades, some could argue centuries, we had been reckless with planet earth. Air pollution was turning daytime into night, rivers caught fire, and toxic waste was threatening our communities. Alarms were going off in our hearts and heads. Then on April 20 of that year, 1970, millions of people across the country gathered for a seminal event: Earth Day.

Earth Day stirred and changed public opinion. Now I was not involved in politics then, but I have a clear memory of Governor Tom McCall of Oregon who proposed the first bottle bill. I wasn’t involved in the environmental movement, but I understood littering. It resonated with me, and I was not alone. The nation was ready to change.

Remember that television ad featuring the Native American named Iron Eyes Cody? He had a tear running down his cheek as the narrator said, “People start pollution, people can stop it.” That ad touched a generation.

There were people who dismissed environmentalism as a fad. Well, environmentalism was not a fad. Not long after that first Earth Day, we began to change. Within a few months the Environmental Protection Agency had been created. Shortly after that, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act were passed. And, a short time later, CERCLA was passed and Superfund created.

Subsequent decades have brought more cleanups, more remediation, more improvement and more of the personal changes of heart that transformed the throw-away generation into the recycling generation.

In three decades, the Environmental Protection Agency has made progressively more environmental improvement. As a nation, we’ve taken on a new environmental maturity by making more progress than in any period in history. We’ve cut air pollution in half, cleaned up our lakes and our streams, and installed sewer and drinking water systems. We've begun the process of healing the land after generations of abuse.

Environmental maturity wasn't the only thing that happened during this period. Computers and the Internet began to erase national boundaries and a reordering of societies began. Economic systems began to change and we began to create a truly global economy.

We started in the 1970s as a world where continents and economic systems had natural limits. Competition was limited by geographic realities. But, in thirty short years, we've been transformed into a place where ideas, capital and jobs can literally be transferred across continents and oceans with a click of a mouse. Intense competition has spread across the globe.

The stakes are high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the workers in the United States manufacturing sector receive a total of $21.33 an hour. We're competing with countries where substantially lower wages are paid. In Singapore, for example, the average wage is $7.20 an hour. In Mexico it's $2.38.

There is a conundrum here. Without a healthy environment, prosperity simply can't be sustained. On the flip side is economic competitiveness. Without a competitive economy, a healthy environment can't be continued.

Looking abroad we're reminded that there's absolutely no force that promotes pollution like poverty. The resolution of this is obvious. We have to get better at achieving environmental progress. Staying competitive in a global marketplace requires a constant level of improvement. Every component of the economic process has to be scrutinized over and over and improved, and then improved again.

In manufacturing, for example, we spend years and thousands of dollars to save microseconds in the manufacturing process because they add up to a serious competitive advantage.

This same type of effort has to be made in Brownfields renewal. We have to learn to do it faster, we have to do it less expensively, and we have to do it with less economic friction. That's exactly the vision of President Bush. It is exactly why he pushed so hard for the Brownfields Revitatlization Act at the beginning of his term.

The goal is very simple: pick up the pace in Brownfields restoration. We do so with local flexibility; we do it by devoting more resources to cleanup; we do it by continued refinement of the regulations that we use.

For example, last month I signed a new proposed rule which clears up ambiguous statutory language and provides certainty to purchasers of potentially contaminated property. It is a regulation some people call, “All Appropriate Inquiries.” I call it common sense. Purchasers receive certain liability protection under CERCLA if they inquire about previous ownership, uses and environmental conditions of the land prior to purchase. We used a negotiated rulemaking process to develop the standards. The collaborative process included state, tribal and local governments, environmental justice groups, lenders and real estate developers in the rulemaking deliberations.

The old way was mandate, regulate and litigate. The new way, the better way, is collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.

I want to add new investment as well. In 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency invested $73.1 million for 211 competitive grants for assessment, revolving loan funds and cleanup. These funds went to 176 localities in 37 states and seven tribes. You add that to what happened in the previous two years and we've made 1,044 Brownfield properties ready for reuse. That's more than previous seven years combined.

We are, in fact, picking up the pace and we're picking it up faster. In 2005 the President proposed a $40 million increase over the 2004 Consolidated Appropriations legislation level. That's a 24 percent increase over the previous year.

The President's vision is very clear. The President wants to see eyesores turned into retail stores. He wants to see rail lines turn into trail lines. He wants to see Brownfields become ballfields.

Now this conference doesn't ask the question, "should we?" This is a conference that asks the question, "how?" A key to accelerating the pace of Brownfields success is to understand why some Brownfields projects work and why some projects don't.

I'd like to offer today this thought: successful Brownfields projects are collaborations, always.

Bankers, developers, insurers, real estate, federal/state government agencies, local government agencies, community based organizations all take part. And, we need to begin thinking of Brownfields projects as problem solving networks. Why? Because the world is beginning to intuitively organize itself into networks.

We've begun to see nations organize themselves into networks. The European Union is an example – independent nations connected together as a network. We've seen business adopt common standards even though they compete. We've even begun to see a change in the way we fight wars.

We are engaged in a war against terrorism. Al Queda is a networked enemy. For some time we have fought battles with a mainframe army. We've begun to change so that we can fight networked enemies.

Similarly, thirty years ago we began to fight environmental battles with a mainframe approach that included, and I am going to make up a word here, "siloed" environmental laws and "siloed" environmental approaches. We now know that we have picked the low-hanging fruit and what's left are more complex problems, more difficult problems, that will require a higher level of collaboration to solve.

Improved collaboration is the new frontier of environmental productivity. We got the machines to work together in the 1990s. In the 21st century, the challenge will be to get the people to work together. It will require a new skill set. And we will need to learn more and teach others.

And, over time, we will get better at it. What took us five years to accomplish can now be done in two because of collaborative problem. We are learning what works and what doesn't.

At EPA we've begun to study collaborations to determine what elements are necessary for success. I'd like to offer today seven questions that will help us collaborate more effectively.

The first question: do the key players in this collaboration have a shared problem and shared pain? The owner, the developer, the community, they all have different motivations, but do they share a problem?

Any collaboration is essentially voluntary. If any of the players view themselves to be better off outside of the process than inside the process, it will fail.

Question number two: is there a convener of stature? May I suggest that the convener isn't the manager. A convener is a person or organization that has sufficient capital to bring people to the table who might otherwise have competing or even unfriendly agendas. It could be the mayor, it could be the governor, it could be a regulator, it could be the Chamber of Commerce, it could be an NGO. It could be anyone of sufficient stature. Every collaboration needs a convener of stature.

Question number three: is there a committed leader? Now again I am not speaking of the convener. I am speaking of someone who by the force of their personality can provide leadership even when things get tough.

Question number four: are those at the table representatives of substance? Are there people there with authority to make decisions? How many collaborations have you seen break down because someone at the table has to go check with their principal? Collaborations work when the people of substance are at the table.

Question number five: does the collaboration have a clearly defined purpose? Bounded problems are more easily solved than large fuzzy issues. Is the collaboration focused on a solvable problem?

Question number six: is there a formal charter? Have we established and agreed to a timeframe and measures of success? This is an area where I believe many collaborations break down simply because they don't think they need it. But a key element of collaboration is a formalized charter.

And lastly, question number seven: is there a common information base? Very often we see people in collaborations dealing with different facts. That's often true when we're dealing with competing science. Successful collaborations require a common set of information.

So, a common problem and shared pain, a convener of stature, a committed leader, people of substance, a clearly defined purpose, a formalized charter and a common information base – these are the elements of success.

Several months ago I was in the heart of Cincinnati in an area called the West End. I was there to present the City of Cincinnati a check for Brownfields job training. It's the first time I had been to the graduation ceremony of workers who were learning the necessary skills to clean up Brownfields.
There was an enthusiasm I had not before experienced. Now remember, I had been Governor for eleven years and I've been through my share of check hand-over ceremonies. They are always fun, but this one was different.

After the pictures had been taken and I had begun to respond to some questions from the media, I could tell there were people who wanted to say something. There was a student there by the name of Melvin James. I turned to Melvin and said, "I sense you want to say something." He said, "Yes I do." He then described his experience with Brownfield renewal as a wonderful thing. He said this is the first time that people have come here and taken an interest in the area he grew up in.

His statements were so touching we recorded them and I quote him here:

We're talking about things built in the early 40s and 50s. It's contaminated and we grew up in it. They paid our mothers and fathers nickels and dimes to work here, and now they're going to pay us a decent wage to clean it up. We've come full circle and that's pretty cool.

We've visited four Brownfield sites today and I've played at three of them. I mean literally played, jumping and everything. One was an old car weigh-in place where they took old cars and they smashed them. We used to go down there and hang out. They melted bumpers and chrome, so you have all types of contamination. But we didn't talk about it. Now they have empowered us to clean the land and that's a beautiful thing.

I want to pledge to you today that the United States Environmental Protection Agency wants to be your partner. We want to pick up the pace and meet the President's clear goal of turning eyesores to retail stores, rail lines to trail lines and Brownfields to ballfields. And that, Melvin, is a beautiful thing.