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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

The Center for National Policy

07/17/1997
Carol M. Browner, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Remarks Prepared for Delivery
The Center for National Policy
July 17, 1997

Thank you, Mo, for that introduction. I am delighted to be back at the Center for National Policy, which does a truly fabulous job of providing a framework for discussing and advancing the vital issues of the day. The Center has proven to be leader in the public policy arena, and I am grateful for the opportunity to join you once again.

Those of you who live here in the Washington area know that it has been an
especially brutal week for the air we breathe.

Every day since Sunday, we have been under an "ozone red alert."

What does that mean? Well, for one, it means that, from my office, the view across the Potomac River and into the Virginia suburbs has been shrouded in a milky-white haze.

But for most people, a spoiled view is the least of their worries.

Pediatricians are warning parents to keep their kids indoors. Elderly people and those
with heart or respiratory ailments have been cautioned that the outdoor air can make them very
sick -- even kill them -- if they are not careful. Healthy people are urged not to jog or engage in
other strenuous outdoor activities.

And if your kids are among the five million American children who have asthma -- the nation's number one chronic childhood illness -- then this can be the kind of week that nightmares are made of.

The fact is that, despite all the progress we've made on the environment over the past quarter-century, air pollution remains a major public health issue in this country.

And there is little doubt as to where Americans stand. They want clean air. They want the public health to come first in setting clean air standards. They want their children protected.

They want EPA to do its job -- which is ensuring that the air they breathe is safe and healthy. They want government to be honest about when the air is unhealthy -- and what it is doing to them.

And they have confidence that government, industry, citizens and communities will rise to the occasion, work together, meet the challenges, and reduce pollution of the air they breathe.

Action on air pollution is what America wants. And today I am proud to say that action -- bold, decisive action -- is what we have taken.

Last month, the President announced new, updated and more protective public Health standards for two common air pollutants -- ozone, otherwise known as smog, and Particulate matter, otherwise known as soot.

Yesterday, I signed those standards into effect.

And today, I'm here to tell you about how those standards make sense -- not only for public health and the environment -- but for the nation's economic future, as well.

How do I know they make sense? Just look at the record of the past 25 years. Look at the experience of this administration on environmental and public health protection.

As we have moved forward on environmental and public health protection, the Economy has moved forward, as well.

Across the nation -- in city after city -- the air, the land, and the water is better, cleaner, and healthier than it once was. Why? Because of a bi-partisan commitment to address the serious pollution issues we faced. The Clean Air Act, with its central focus on public health protection, is a shining example of this commitment. It has worked for America. And these updated air quality standards build on that progress.

Today, unfortunately, some are questioning our commitment to a public health Standard for air pollution. They say it conflicts with our economic goals.

But that's not what history tells us. What the President has said, on many occasions, has proven to be true -- environmental protection and economic progress do go hand-in-hand. We do not have to choose between our health and our jobs. In fact, the two are inextricably linked. A healthy economy helps us achieve a healthier environment. And a healthy environment helps to build a stronger economy.

Three years ago, when I last appeared here before the Center for National Policy, I spelled
out the President's formula for success: Set tough, effective standards for protecting the
environment and public health, and then work closely with all who are affected by those standards -- businesses, communities, citizens, state and local government -- toward meeting these standards in reasonable, flexible and common sense ways.

I want you all to know that the air quality standards we issued yesterday are fully consistent with that philosophy.

For one, these standards amount to the most significant step we've taken in a generation
to protect the American people -- and especially our children -- from the health hazards of air
pollution.

Together, they will protect 125 million Americans, including 35 million children, from the
adverse health effects of breathing polluted air.

They will prevent approximately 15,000 premature deaths, about 350,000 cases of
aggravated asthma and nearly a million cases of significantly decreased lung function in children.

These standards are based on evidence from more than 250 scientific studies -- all of it
published, peer-reviewed, checked and double-checked, as required by law, by an independent
review panel.

The evidence leads to an inescapable conclusion. Smog and soot in the air are causing
adverse health effects in Americans -- and especially in the elderly, people with respiratory
problems, and in children -- at levels that, until yesterday, were considered acceptable under
government standards.

Clearly, we had to respond to this evidence with these tough, more protective standards.
The independent scientific panel agreed. The Clean Air Act required us to act. And that is
precisely what we did.

Now we proceed to the next step -- and the next challenge: Finding ways to meet these
new standards, and ensure that the air in our communities is safe and healthy to breathe, by
working together toward the goals we have set.

Even though, under the Clean Air Act, EPA is prevented from considering the costs of
public health standards to businesses and communities, costs did play a role in developing our
plan for implementing the standards.

_, We have gone the extra mile. For the first time ever, accompanying new air quality
standards is an implementation package that will ensure that these public health protections will be achieved in flexible, common sense and cost-effective ways -- providing for both cleaner air and the nation's economic progress.

The central focus of that package is cooperation -- people working together for a better
future. Everyone has a role to play in seeing that these standards are met -- citizens, industry,
government, the scientific community. Indeed, EPA's implementation plan taps right into the
very spirit of innovation and ingenuity that is the foundation of America's leadership in the world.

The plan includes a number of major initiatives designed to enable businesses and
communities to meet the standards -- and provide clean air for the American people -- while our
communities continue to thrive.

Will this challenge us? Of course. Will meeting these standards require some large
industrial sources to reduce their pollution of the public's air? Absolutely.

But by focusing on those large sources -- particularly large power plants that contribute
most significantly to regional, "transported" pollution, we can go a long way toward meeting
these new standards in our cities.

This implementation package relies on an emissions trading plan for major utilities -- one
that was developed collectively by some 37 states. This plan will greatly help solve the problem
of "transported" ozone pollution -- the kind that originates in one area, yet causes downwind
areas to have "ozone red alert days."

While much of our air pollution problems here on the East Coast are caused by local
sources, a large measure of the bad air that has plagued us over the past few days actually
originated some 200 to 300 miles away. In other areas, ozone may be transported by winds more than 500 miles.

That is why addressing this transported ozone pollution with a regional plan -- rather than
city by city -- is so sensible.

As this plan is allowed to take effect, and regional pollution levels fall, we believe that
many areas that might not today meet tougher public health standards will be able to do so
without taking an addition anti-pollution measures. If fact, we have even developed a
"transitional" category for these areas.

Our philosophy is: Let's give the regional plan time to work. The air in many areas will
get cleaner. And local officials will find that they can achieve the new standards with much less
difficulty than some have predicted.

Our implementation package is also based on EPA's determination to continue on the path
to clean air by respecting agreements already reached by businesses and communities, and not
disrupting the progress that is currently being made.

And, for those communities that still can't meet the new standards, we're going to make
sure they have ample time to reduce pollution and bring themselves into compliance. We're
talking no new local pollution controls until the year 2004 for ozone, and the year 2005 for
particulate matter. We're talking another three years -- until 2007 and 2008, respectively -- to
determine who is in compliance, and who is not.

We believe this extended timetable -- developed in light of the concerns expressed by
those who will be affected most by these standards -- will facilitate a more cooperative
atmosphere in which EPA can work with all who are affected by these new standards to ensure
that they are able to comply.

And because we believe so strongly that businesses will be able to provide these health
protections to the American people in an affordable way, we are making this guarantee to them: If
you cannot identify cost-effective pollution reductions, you may instead pay money into a Clean
Air Investment Fund. States will then be able to use this fund to purchase pollution reductions
from cheaper sources. This will cap the costs to industry and serve as an insurance policy against unpredictable future costs. And, through this creative implementation approach,
these funds can be invested in innovative, pollution-reducing technologies.

Some may ask -- if the process is going to take such a long time, then why set tougher
standards now? Why not wait? Why do it at all?

The answer is simple. As with many important, complex, difficult problems, you have to
begin your long journey to a solution with a first step. And the President's bold decision on these
standards is that first step -- a first step toward giving future generations of Americans clean air to
breathe.

Our approach will give us time for technology to continue its onward march -- and give us
new and more cost-effective ways to reduce pollution.

That is what the framers of the Clean Air Act envisioned more than a quarter-century ago
-- setting tough standards for air pollution, encouraging cooperation between governments and
businesses on compliance measures, and thereby tapping into America's vast reserves of
innovation and ingenuity to meet those standards in a way that grows our economy.

As many of you know, some members of Congress have indicated that they will thoroughly review what this administration has done to fulfill the mandate of the Clean Air Act --
and to ensure that the air in our communities is safe and healthy to breathe.

I welcome that review. And I believe that if members of Congress look at
what we did -- fairly, thoroughly and responsibly -- then they will see that the President made
the right call. They will determine, as he did, that the public's interest -- and the public's right
to breathe clean air -- must prevail over the special interests.

Don't let anyone tell you that we cannot meet the twin goals of clean air and a strong
economy.

We've done it before. We can do it again.

And, when we do, future generations of Americans will remember us fondly for enabling
them to breathe easier.