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Administrator Johnson, National Wildlife Federation’s 70th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA

03/17/2006
    Thank you, Larry, for that introduction.

    I appreciate the invitation to speak as the National Wildlife Federation’s 70th Annual Meeting, and I would like to congratulate you on seven decades of helping Americans understand their role in protecting our natural heritage.

    It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you in the city of New Orleans. We all know that six months ago, a conference like this could not have been held here. I believe our very presence today is a credit to the determination of the residents of New Orleans as they work hard to revitalize and rejuvenate this historic city.

    Last week, the President and Mrs. Bush traveled to the Gulf Coast and saw first-hand what we are experiencing today – the extraordinary progress that is being made to clean-up and restore these neighborhoods. And as he visited with residents who have returned from months of living in different cities throughout the country, the President remarked that he was impressed and encouraged by their determination to move on and rebuild.

    I want to thank NWF for sticking with your plans to hold your annual meeting in New Orleans. Each person that arrives here, brings money to contribute to the region’s economy, and the hope that one day normalcy will indeed return.

    I also appreciate that your conference is highlighting the vital need to protect and restore our wetlands, here in the Mississippi River Basin, and throughout our entire country.

    Just as the arrival of each person brings hope back to these communities, the protection and restoration of each acre of wetlands brings hope to the future of this natural treasure.

    And just as the residents of New Orleans are determined to rebuild their homes and their lives, President Bush and EPA are determined to rebuild and rejuvenate our nation’s wetlands.

    As you know, on Earth Day 2004, President Bush announced an aggressive new national goal for restoring one of our country’s most precious natural resources – our wetlands.

    Moving beyond a policy of "no net loss," the President's goal is to create, improve, and protect at least three million wetland acres by 2009.

    We all know that when acting alone, our environmental progress is limited - but with the help of partners like NWF, we are on a path to exceed the President’s ambitious commitment.

    Last year, roughly 870,000 acres of wetlands were restored, created, protected or improved. At that pace – and by working together – we will surpass President Bush's five-year goal by well over four million acres.

    Wetlands have been called the nurseries of life. They serve as nesting and feeding places for birds. They serve as home to threatened and endangered species. They serve to clean and purify water, trap pollution and stabilize shore areas.

    All in all, the health of our wetlands is vital to the health of our environment – and after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the entire world knows how vital wetlands are to the well-being of our nation’s communities.

    Last year, the Gulf Coast hurricanes called our nation’s attention to the importance of wetlands, buffers and barriers in protecting our coasts from flooding.

    These key landscape features are often the first line of defense for our coastal communities, and their presence directly reduces the magnitude of a wind-driven storm surge. Moreover, these areas serve as a nursery for this country’s most productive commercial fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as function as a vital link for our domestic energy supply.

    According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, Hurricane Katrina converted more than 19,000 acres of preexisting marsh to open water around the upper portion of Breton Sound. Other nearby wetland areas also sustained major losses, and the fragmentation of the remaining marsh makes it vulnerable to further damage. In addition, the barrier islands off the Louisiana coast sustained some serious harm, which makes the entire coastline currently more susceptible to future storm damage.

    When EPA, and our federal, state and local partners complete our analysis of the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on Louisiana’s wetlands and the broader Gulf Coast, we will gain a clearer understanding of how these major storms have altered the face of our coastal environment. This information is vital as we reassess, refine, and develop the necessary environmental restoration plans to strengthen the coastal areas’ natural protective capacity against future storms and hurricanes. As I know you appreciate, coastal security and sustainability is about more than levees and concrete.

    EPA has a history of successful barrier island restoration projects in coastal Louisiana.
    In our most recent project, the dune and marsh restoration on Timbalier Island, we were able to restore over two miles of barrier island. After the storms subsided, we were pleased to find that our project was able to withstand an approximate 12-foot storm surge from Hurricane Katrina. And not only has the project remained largely intact, our recent aerial assessments indicate it will be able to absorb another storm surge, in addition to the daily wave energies from the Gulf of Mexico.

    As I said before, EPA and President Bush are determined to increase the quantity and quality of our nation’s wetlands, but we cannot do it alone. And as we more forward to meet the President’s restoration goal, we know that we must join with our federal, state, local and private partners – partners like the National Wildlife Federation – to accelerate the pace of protecting and conserving these nurseries of life.

    The President’s 2007 budget request reflects the need for collaboration and resources among federal agencies to reach our wetlands goals. The budget seeks an increase in the annual allotted enrollment for the Department of Agriculture’s Wetlands Reserve Program of nearly 100,000 acres, to the statutory maximum 250,000 acres. The President’s request also seeks almost 42 million dollars for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act – an increase of over six percent from 2006.

    Environmental restoration efforts are costly. In working with our partners and stakeholders, EPA understands that collaboration effort is necessary to fully examine restoration priorities in light of the current state of the coastal environment.

    Another important piece of analysis is an evaluation of the dozens of coastal restoration projects constructed under the Breaux Act. In addition, the lessons we learn from the demonstration projects should be applied to future efforts. As a member of the task force set up under the Breaux Act, EPA works closely with the Governor's Commission to Restore Coastal LA, of which NWF is a member. The Agency appreciates all of your hard work on that commission, and we look forward to our work together to restore and protect this area.

    Another way EPA is collaborating with our partners is in the implementation of the Mitigation Action Plan. In December 2002, EPA and our colleague federal agencies launched this Plan to undertake a series of actions to improve the ecological performance and results of wetlands compensatory mitigation under the Clean Water Act and related programs.

    EPA remains committed to this effort and has taken a leadership role in ensuring broad input into the guidance documents developed under the plan. We appreciate NWF’s active participation in four stakeholder forums held over the last few years to discuss the most critical needs to improve performance and accountability of mitigation projects.

    EPA also appreciates your input on the development of guidance regarding location and types of mitigation projects, and how to work towards a true "watershed approach" to mitigation. This approach focuses on developing the plans that could be used to guide both compensatory mitigation and voluntary restoration projects to best meet the needs of each individual watershed.

    Collaboration is not only key to our work to improve our nation’s wetlands, it is also necessary in our efforts to restore and protect the Great Lakes.

    By establishing the Federal task force and calling for the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, President Bush recognized the importance of the Great Lakes and their vitality, not just to the region, but to the entire country. The unique nature of these majestic lakes and their role in the cultural, economic and environmental well-being of our nation requires us to come together for their defense.

    President Bush remains strongly committed to the future of the Great Lakes. In his fiscal year 2007 budget request for EPA, President Bush requested over $70 million to clean and protect the Lakes. This includes $50 million for Great Lakes Legacy Act programs, an increase of about $21 million over last year’s enacted budget – demonstrating a true commitment to preserving this natural wonder.

    The President’s collaborative vision became a reality with the formation of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration – a coalition of Great Lakes governors, mayors, tribes, and community organizations who joined with our federal partners to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Last December, the Collaboration released its final strategy, which serves as a blueprint for prioritizing future action.

    I appreciate all the work that the Healing our Waters Coalition, which NWF co-chairs, has done over the past year as a partner of the Collaboration. The HOW Coalition’s support, and the support of all our partners, have helped strengthen the collaborative process by encouraging strong participation from the public.

    I hope that the HOW Coalition will continue to be a positive voice for the Collaboration as we move forward on the implementation of the priority actions.

    Once again, I would like to thank you for inviting me to speak at your annual meeting. NWF has been an ally in EPA’s efforts to not just change the way our environment looks, but change the way we look at our environment.

    Since the Agency’s founding in 1970, EPA has been helping change the way each and every individual looks at how their own personal actions today, impact our shared environment tomorrow.

    Today 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.

    EPA did not bring about these changes on our own. I would like to thank NWF for educating landowners and the rest of the public about the benefits of land-use practices that benefit both the environment and the economy.

    I also know that you are working closely with the Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana to raise public awareness of the impact Louisiana's wetland loss has on the state, nation and world. I encourage you to continue the important work that you are doing here in Louisiana, and across the entire country, to restore these natural treasures.

    Just as the residents here in the Gulf Coast are determined to rebuild their homes and their lives, together with our partners, President Bush and EPA are determined to rebuild and revitalize our nation’s wetlands.

    Thank you and I hope the remainder of your meeting is successful.