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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Association of Government Accountants

01/24/2002
Thank you, Nikki (Tinsley), for that kind introduction.

Before anyone wonders why the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is speaking to a room full of accountants, I think that it can at least be said that environmentalists and accountants have a couple of things in common. First, we have both been said to view the world through green eye shades, though obviously for different reasons. And second, whether with an abacus, an adding machine, or an air quality monitor, accountants – like environmentalists – understand the concept of keeping track.

That is one of the things we are working on at the EPA – keeping better track of the progress we are making for the environment. It is linked to the goal I established when I first became administrator one year ago – to leave America’s air cleaner, its water purer, and its land better protected than when I arrived at EPA.

Underlying this simple, but powerful, goal is what I believe represents a profound change in the way EPA must approach its mission. It forces us to ask specific questions about our work that allow us to define our success based upon measurable progress. Will this action make our air cleaner? Will a new rule make our water purer? The answers to these questions – and many others – plot the path we must take to accomplish our goals for the environment.

If our goal is going to be defined by progress, the measurements of our success must be as well. We cannot continue to evaluate our progress by quantifying how much process we’ve been able to devise. Instead, we must measure our success by measuring the state of the environment.

That is why we are developing an environmental report card, so that every year the American people can have the information they need to measure the success – or failure – of our efforts. It will be somewhat like a balance sheet for the environment. This report will explain, in plain language, the areas where we have been successful in cleaning up the environment and those areas that still need attention.

We need to do a better job educating people about the results of 30 years of environmental progress, just as we need to let them know what steps we will need to take to achieve the next generation of environmental progress. An environmental report card will help us do both and it is long overdue.

Of course, having a report card is only half of the battle – we then have to back it up with results. I guess it is like filing your tax return and then actually paying your taxes – you cannot really have one without the other. I believe we have a clear opportunity to make measurable improvements in our environment – in our air, land, and water – in the coming years. Let me share with you three examples of how we intend to achieve this.

The first concerns air pollution. Last year, America’s governors called upon Congress to establish a “flexible, market-based program to significantly reduce and cap emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, [and] mercury...providing market-based incentives, such as emissions-trading credits to help achieve the required reductions.”

I am pleased that the Administration is going to put forth such an approach soon. This proposal will establish mandatory reductions by power plants of NOx, SO2, and mercury, while also providing the flexibility needed to achieve these reductions in ways that make both environmental and economic sense. I should also mention that we believe our proposal will, on its own, result in substantial improvements to air quality in most of the United States.

The President’s proposal is modeled on the very successful Acid Rain program which has, over the past decade, achieved more reductions in air pollution than anyone expected. The wide acceptance of this program – industry compliance is at nearly 100 percent – and the efficiency with which it is run – it takes fewer than 20 EPA employees to run it – makes it a model worth following.

Another area where we are making important progress is our effort to reclaim America’s brownfields. A brownfield is a piece of property that, because of its previous use, is thought to be environmentally contaminated. These properties – often old gas stations or abandoned small factories – are a blight on their neighborhoods and a drain on the economic vitality of their communities.

Reclaiming brownfields for productive use provides enormous benefits. Every acre of brownfields reused saves 4.5 acres of green space. Every dollar of federal money spent on brownfields has leveraged two-and-a-half dollars of private investment. And, of course, when a brownfield is turned into a ballfield or park, or a new doctor’s office, or a community center, the neighborhood’s quality of life is greatly improved.

For a variety of reasons, we haven’t been able to make as much progress cleaning up brownfields across America as we would like, although due to some innovative efforts at the state level, we have seen some significant progress. For most of the 1990s, Congress tried to enact brownfields legislation to address the problems that have discouraged the redevelopment of brownfields, but it never quite got there.

Fortunately, this past year President Bush made the passage of such legislation a priority – he campaigned on it in 2000 and wanted to see it done in 2001. After much hard work, the Congress passed brownfields legislation late last year and I am pleased to report that the President signed the bill two weeks ago.

This new law will help eliminate the mine field that anyone who sought to reclaim a brownfield has faced, while providing additional resources to states and communities to undertake this important environmental work. It will eliminate thousands of environmental eyesores and creates thousands of community assets. I am so pleased that the President and Congress were able to work together to get this important environmental work underway.

Having talked a bit about the air and land, let me address our water challenges for a minute. Water is likely to be the major environmental issue of the 21st century, and I believe that achieving the next generation of environmental progress in water will demand the adoption of a watershed-based approach. I recently heard a watershed defined as “Communities connected by water” – a good reminder that we all live downstream from someone.

When a suburban homeowner uses a certain pesticide on their lawn, or changes the oil in their car in the driveway, rain can carry the residue far from where it was originally deposited. When farmers aren’t careful about how they manage their waste, a small creek can carry those pollutants from the farm all the way to a lake miles away. When city dwellers aren’t careful about what is deposited on their streets, that waste can wind up in the ocean. This is called nonpoint source pollution – pollutants that aren’t dumped directly into water but that wind up there anyway.

Today, the primary cause of most of America’s water pollution challenges is nonpoint source pollution. Accordingly, we at EPA are shifting our focus from point sources – such as a pipe discharging directly into a river – to nonpoint sources.

Later this year, EPA will inaugurate an effort to address the challenges facing 20 of America’s most important watersheds. This effort will be built on partnerships – partnerships that will include state and local government, area businesses, academia, and concerned local citizens.

Just as everyone has a part in creating non-point source pollution, we will ensure that everyone plays a role in addressing it. And as we move forward, I intend to keep our focus less on process and more on results. That is how I believe we must proceed in meeting every challenge we face.

You all understand that it is the bottom line that matters – and when it comes to the environment, that is what I have my eye on. My hope is that when the day comes that my time at EPA is over, it will be very easy to determine whether or not I’ve succeeded at what I set out to do. If we have an environmental report card that shows that our air is cleaner, our water is purer, and our land is better protected, then I will know the answer is yes.

I am pleased to say that we are laying the foundations that will make this possible. I am excited about the environmental progress I expect we will be able to achieve in the months and years ahead. And I am convinced that as long as we work together and stay firmly focused on our goals, we will make America’s environment cleaner than it is today.

Thank you.