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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

As Prepared for Administrator Johnson, 2006 Brownfields Conference, Boston, MA

11/13/2006
Thank you, Susan (Bodine).

It’s a pleasure to be here to once again to address the Brownfields Conference.

As seen by the attendance of this national conference, Brownfields cleanup and redevelopment has grown to become one of the greatest environmental and economic stories of the past decade. I want to thank everyone here for helping write the next chapter in that success story. Through the work of EPA and our partners, we are helping convert environmental eyesores back into sources of community pride.

As you can guess, as EPA Administrator, I travel all around the country to assess how effectively our programs are benefiting the environment. But I bet you probably think I spend all my time hanging out in pristine wilderness areas, taking fan boat rides through the Florida Everglades, and hiking around ANWAR Alaska. While it’s true I have done some of those things, unfortunately I spend the majority of my time visiting places that EPA is trying to clean up, which are – shall we say – less than spotless. Over the past few months, I’ve been to a landfill … an auto junk yard … and a number of industrial facilities. I’ve been traipsing through so many grimy areas, that my wife has made it abundantly clear that I now have to take off my shoes before walking into our house.

But as I’m sure the attendees of the Brownfields Conference can appreciate, it is there at some of those less-than-spotless places, where EPA and our partners are making some of our greatest environmental strides.

For example, last year I visited an inner city neighborhood. And I saw first-hand, that through the work of community leaders, where once stood abandoned buildings and derelict lots, now there is an urban oasis. By replacing plots of rubble with grass and trees, this community is turning urban blight into urban pride, reducing the environmental effects of stormwater runoff, and keeping rainwater out of the city’s overtaxed sewer system.

And just as we see with Brownfields reclamation, advances in the urban environment have led to advances in the urban economy. Through this collaboration, property values have increased by as much as 30 percent. Who would have thought that a little grass could produce such results?

For those of us with front and back yards, a patch of grass might not seem like a big deal. But when I was visiting that neighborhood, I noticed two young girls who were riding their bikes around one of the rehabilitated lots. Where there was once a plot littered with abandoned cars and trash, there is now safe, grassy land for the children of that community to play. I went up to those girls and asked them how they liked their new play area. They replied, “We love it!” As I said before, who would have thought that a little grass could produce such results.

That’s what the Brownfields program is doing all across America. It is taking problem properties and turning them back into economic and environmental assets. And I’m pleased that the Environmental Protection Agency can be a partner in this effort.

You see, when President Bush asked me to become Administrator of EPA, he charged me with accelerating the pace of environmental progress, while maintaining our nation’s economic competitiveness. So, instead of being viewed by some as a source of conflict, my goal is for an EPA that is a source of cooperation. And, instead of being seen by some as a stumbling block to economic growth, my goal is for an EPA that upholds environmental standards while working with individuals and industry to find innovative solutions to our environmental challenges.

EPA’s commitment to the Brownfields Program reflects both of these goals. It is a collaborative model of environmental protection that forges strong public-private partnerships, and promotes innovative and creative solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing environmental challenges.

And the program is working. By encouraging cleanup and redevelopment of America’s abandoned and contaminated waste sites, EPA’s Brownfields program has leveraged more than $8.5 billion in private investment … helped create more than 39,000 jobs … and resulted in the assessment of more than 8,600 properties.

These are impressive numbers. But the Brownfields program isn’t just about improving local environments and economies. Through our commitment to urban redevelopment, President Bush and EPA are putting both people and property back to work.

We are taking problem properties and transforming them back into community assets.

We are empowering people to work together to revitalize and rehabilitate their communities.

And, through the Brownfields Program, President Bush, EPA and our partners are converting waste sites back into something of pride.

It gives people pride when they turn a distressed and impoverished area into an area of commerce and a source of local jobs, like we have done in the Clay Arsenal neighborhood of Hartford, Connecticut.

On the vacant site of a former state arsenal, a dye works facility, and a gas station, investigators found numerous environmental hazards, including underground oil tanks and petroleum contaminated soil.

But instead of allowing it to remain a source of economic and environmental blight, community leaders came together to transform the site into a source of urban pride. After more than 10 years of planning, today a new 40,000 square-foot supermarket now provides neighborhood residents with convenient shopping, as well as much-needed employment opportunities. This project now serves as a model for other communities in putting both people and property back to work.

As we write additional chapters in the Brownfields success story, we can also look to the Meeting Street neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island. There, we are turning a former residential and commercial site contaminated with lead, arsenic and other hazardous substances, into schools and a community center.

Upon its completion, this learning, health, and job training center will improve the lives and the livelihoods of neighborhood residents. In addition, three acres of the site have been set aside for an outdoor play area and athletic fields – providing the community a much-needed and safe area for recreation.

But in addition to converting waste sites into sources of urban pride, EPA and our partners have been working to clean up remote sites that pollute watersheds of nearby towns.

Last year, I announced EPA’s Good Samaritan Initiative as a way to encourage voluntary efforts to address legacy water impacts from abandoned hardrock mines. The acid mine drainage from orphaned hardrock mines can affect local communities by threatening drinking and agricultural water supplies, increasing water treatment costs, and limiting fishing and other recreational opportunities.

Cleaning up the source often poses daunting challenges. Because in the large majority of cases, like the prospectors who once worked them, those responsible for the pollution are long since gone – leaving behind an orphaned environmental hazard. The good news – there are many non-profit groups, local communities and businesses willing and able to clean up these Brownfield sites. Yet while these “Good Samaritans” are ready to get to work, they have run into legal roadblocks.

President Bush has proposed to clear these legal roadblocks – removing the threat of litigation from voluntary hardrock mine cleanups, and allowing our nation’s Good Samaritans to finally get their shovels into the dirt.

This summer, legislation was introduced on behalf of the Bush Administration that will offer a new tool in the environmental tool box to help clean up abandoned hardrock mines sites nationwide.

The Good Samaritan Clean Watershed Act will improve water quality by accelerating the pace of watershed restoration and advancing the ethic of cooperative conservation – where local residents join together to solve local environmental challenges.

The legislation has the backing of many of our state, local and non-governmental partners … including a number of you in this room. Together, I believe we can convince Congress to finally clear the legal roadblocks to help protect America’s watersheds.

So why all this effort to convert environmental eyesores into sources of pride? Well, when people are proud of their communities, they are invested in the future of their neighborhoods. And this is why I think all of us are here in this room today … we are all invested in the future environmental and economic health of our nation.

I have three grandchildren, and when they grow up I want them to know that their grandfather did all he could to ensure their future. I want them to know that I did my best to hand them a country with cleaner air, water and. I want them to know that I did all I could do to provide them a country with unlimited economic opportunities. And I’m sure you all feel the same about your families.

One way in which we are handing down a cleaner environment and a healthier economy is through EPA’s Brownfields Job Training Program – where we put both people and property back to work.

Through this program, residents can take advantage of jobs created by the assessment and cleanup of brownfields sites in their communities. To date, the EPA Brownfields Job Training Program has placed more than 18,000 individuals in full-time employment, with an average hourly wage of more than $13 dollars in first post-training job. This program is unique because it advances economic prosperity in disenfranchised communities – creating sustainable work for the same people who call these neighborhoods home.

Through every aspect of the Brownfields Program, EPA and our partners are improving the lives and the livelihoods of residents living in blighted communities all across the United States. And today, I’d like to recognize the winners of this year’s EPA Brownfields Job Training grants competition – those who will be putting both people and property back to work in their communities.

A number of this year’s winners are here with us today, so when I say your name, please stand to be recognized.

They are:
    • The City of Roanoke, Virginia
    • The City of Bridgeport, Connecticut
    • The City of Camden, Arkansas
    • Civic Works of Baltimore, Maryland
    • The City of Cincinnati, Ohio
    • Los Angeles Conservation Corps of Los Angeles, California
    • Milwaukee Community Service Corps of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    • Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. of Portland, Oregon
    • The City of Phoenix, Arizona
    • North Star Center for Human Development, Inc. of Hartford, Connecticut
    • The City of Long Beach, California
    • And, O-A-I, Inc. of Chicago, Illinois

Congratulations and thank you for all your work.

But as you know, the real winners are the residents of their communities who will be provided a brighter, healthier future through the Brownfields program.

I encourage all of you to keep up the good work and continue to build the momentum for local redevelopment. It is enormous responsibility to turn environmental eyesores back into engines of economic rebirth. But by working together, we will continue to convert environmental eyesores across America back into sources of community pride.

Thanks and I hope you have a productive conference.