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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, Washington, D.C.

03/20/2001
          Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
          Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,
          to the
          Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies
          Washington, D.C.

          March 20, 2001



          Thank you, Diane (Van De Hei), for that introduction. It’s good to be with you today.

          Let me start by congratulating AMWA on its 20th anniversary. Your 140 member-systems serve 110 million Americans. For twenty years, you have helped ensure that our country continues to have one of the safest, most abundant, most reliable, and most affordable drinking water systems in the world. Thank you for all you have done to promote public confidence in America’s water supply.

          As I was reading the briefing materials my staff prepared for me today, I was pleased to notice that they referred to your group as one of the EPA’s “major partners.” As I go about my work, I’m looking for partners – partners with whom the EPA can work in pursuit of shared goals – namely, preserving, protecting, and improving our environment for our families, and their futures.

          I firmly believe that we have reached a point in our national life where we can come together – stakeholders from every point in the spectrum – to find common ground. America is ready to move beyond the command and control model that has long-defined Washington’s relationship with the rest of the country on environmental policy.

          It’s been more than 30 years now since the EPA was created. Over that time, you’ve come to know the EPA very well – some might say all too well.

          Yet, as we look over the past three decades, I think we can all agree that the work done by the EPA has helped transform the state of America’s environment. By nearly every measure, our environment is healthier today than it was in 1970. Our air is cleaner, our water purer, and our land is better protected.

          Over that same time, we have also seen a transformation in the way millions of Americans and thousands of American businesses approach their own environmental responsibilities.

          Not too long ago, most of us never gave a second thought to how our efforts to grow greener grass might effect an area river. Now we see the growing of organic lawn management practice.

          There was a time when most businesses viewed environmental requirements as unwanted intruders. Today, many business leaders make superior environmental performance an inherent part of their business strategy.
          Where we once took our environmental and natural resources for granted, we now instinctively understand how precious they are and how important they are to our future. That means we are ready for a new approach – an approach based on finding common ground to achieve shared goals.

          Of course, some will ask, “How can we find common ground today when so much time has been spent fighting over turf in the past?” And it’s true, the relationship between the EPA and those it regulates has often been adversarial. I know what that’s like.

          During my seven years as New Jersey’s governor I was on receiving end of more than a few federal mandates. But there were also times when I was given the opportunity to work with Washington on matters of mutual concern to my state. As a result, I learned that Washington can be an important ally as well as an intimidating adversary – and that more good gets done when Washington builds partnerships.

          That’s what I want to do with America’s drinking water suppliers, build and strengthen the partnership we already share. Our goals are the same – providing plenty of safe, clean water to the American people. I want to work with you in that effort – and I’m not as interested in how you do it so long as you are doing it.

          That being said, I know there are a number of specific issues about which you are interested. I would like to address several of them.

          First, let me touch briefly on water infrastructure needs. Last month, I submitted to Congress the EPA’s second report on the Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey. There’s no doubt that over the next 20 years, it’s going to cost a lot of money to address those needs.

          Clearly, this situation will not only require a strong commitment from federal, state, and local governments, it will also call for innovative funding mechanisms, public-private partnerships, and technological advances. I believe, however, that this is a challenge we can meet together, as partners.

          Next, as you know there are several water rules at various stages in the process when President Bush took office – rules we have reserved the right to review further. One of those rules concerns acceptable levels for arsenic in drinking water.

          Shortly before leaving office, the previous administration lowered the drinking water standard for arsenic from 50 parts per billion to ten parts per billion. As you know, this decision has been met with a great deal of concern.

          In particular, some have questioned whether EPA appropriately dealt with scientific uncertainties in estimating the health benefits of the rule. In addition, some of those communities that would be most effected have questioned whether EPA has under-estimated compliance costs.


          I have looked at this issue very carefully. I believe it is clear that the current standard, which was established more than 50 years ago, is too high. At the same time, I believe that there is still question as to whether the ten parts per billion standard is the right one.

          As President Bush made very clear during the campaign, the EPA in the Bush Administration is going to make decisions based on solid analysis and reason.

          From my review to date, I have found that there are still unresolved serious questions about the arsenic rule. That is why earlier today I have signed the documents necessary to provide for a further review of the new standard.

          When that data is in, and after the public has had the chance to comment, we will move forward and take such actions as are consistent with our commitment to ensuring a safe and affordable water supply for all Americans. When we make a decision on arsenic, it will be based on solid analysis.

          In addition, the EPA will continue to review contemplated rules concerning radon, MTBE, and the control of cryptosporidium. The decisions on those matters, like all the decisions I expect to make as administrator, will also be made based on strong science and solid analysis.

          Of course, one area where we do have of plenty of good science to guide us concerns what I see as the greatest clean water challenge in America – nonpoint source pollution of our rivers, lakes, and estuaries.

          Nonpoint source pollution is the main reason that about one-third of surveyed lakes, rivers, and estuaries aren’t clean enough for fishing swimming, or drinking. That’s better than things were, but it’s not good enough

          There is much that can be done to improve the health of our waters, but I believe the key to success lies in taking a watershed protection approach to controlling nonpoint source pollution, the leading uncontrolled source of water pollution in the United States today.

          In my home state of New Jersey, we have adopted watershed management as the cornerstone of our clean water program. In my last year as governor, I proposed a far-reaching water management rule designed to protect our watersheds by ensuring that development and other activity occurred in ways that our watersheds could handle. And New Jersey is not alone.

          In North Carolina, for example, local governments are required to implement water supply watershed protection programs that control development and address agricultural impacts to protect drinking water reservoirs.

          Other stakeholders, such as your organization, are also at work trying to address nonpoint source pollution. I applaud your active engagement with the agricultural community to find ways to promote best management practices, and protect critical watershed lands.

          I want to work together to address nonpoint source pollution. The issues involved are complex and difficult. There are no easy answers, like there were when dealing with issues like the direct discharge of pollutants into waterways. It’s one thing to stop a factory from pumping thousands of gallons of pollutants into a river. It’s quite another to find the answer to solving the problems created by runoff from parking lots that are nowhere near a body of water.

          It’s precisely in situations like this that building partnerships is most important. Only by coming together in pursuit of a common goal – cleaner water – will we be able to unleash the many possible, creative solutions complex challenges like this require. The federal government can’t do it alone. It must partner with state and local governments. And we can provide leadership, technical assistance, and other expertise to help tackle this problem.

          I know I’ve just dipped my toe into the water when it comes to addressing all the issues you’re interested in at the EPA – but I understand you only have the room until midday tomorrow. I am sure, however, that we will have many more opportunities like this to exchange views and strengthen our partnership. I look forward to working with you in pursuit of our common goal – cleaner water for all Americans in the years ahead.

          Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your conference.