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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Environment Policy Committee Meeting

02/20/1996
                         Carol M. Browner



Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Environment Policy Committee Meeting


                          Paris, France




                      Prepared for Delivery
                       February 20, 1996






I want to thank Secretary-General [Jean-Claude] Paye, Minister [John] Gummer, and Members of the Bureau for their hard work and their leadership in preparing for today's meeting. It is a pleasure to be here with all of my colleagues.

This morning we will examine our progress over the past 25 years in protecting public health and our environment, so that we may go forward to meet the challenges of the future.

How has environmental management progressed over the past 25 years?

As individual nations, we can point to significant progress. Urban air pollution is down. Microbial contamination of our water supply is down. We have made great progress on the point sources of pollution -- the smokestacks, the discharge pipes. Pollution due to DDT, PCB's, and mercury is down. We are making considerable progress in conserving energy and natural resources and in managing waste responsibly.

In the U.S., water bodies that used to be virtual sewage dumps are now vital, thriving places where people swim and fish. In virtually every city in the US, the air is cleaner than it was 25 years ago. Smog and carbon monoxide are down. By banning lead in gasoline, we reduced the level of lead in the air by 98and protected millions of children from permanent mental damage. The Clinton Administration moved to reduce toxic air pollution from chemical plants by 90and set tough new standards for incinerators.

Twenty-five years ago, our countries joined together in the firm belief that public health and environmental protection and economic development can and must go hand in hand.

Perhaps most important, citizens of all our nations have gained a new understanding over the past 25 years. More than ever before, our citizens recognize that to ensure a prosperous economy and a good quality of life for ourselves and our children, we must act as responsible stewards of our air, our water, and our land.

Beyond our own progress as individual nations, we can be proud of our collective work through the OECD. The work on economic instruments, state of the environment reporting, indicators and performance reviews has been extremely useful. Even more important is the body of environment-related OECD Council Acts, beginning with the Polluter Pays Principle. Such Acts are the most useful OECD contribution to environmental protection, and we must allow ourselves to develop further ones in the future.

In that regard, today we are to endorse four new valuable instruments:

•the Council Recommendation on Implementing Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers, which showcases the OECD's constructive follow-up to UNCED on a matter of fundamental importance to government, industry and the public; •the Council Recommendation on Improving the Environmental Performance of Governments, which recognizes the leadership role government can and should take; •the Council Resolution on Improving the Environmental Performance of the OECD; and •the Ministerial Declaration and Council Resolution on Lead Risk Reduction, which will assist us in furthering our already impressive progress in protecting the public, especially children.

In addition, the U.S. believes we must include non-OECD countries in our agreements on the Mutual Acceptance of Data in the Assessment of Chemicals -- to expand the ability of nations throughout the world to develop and share reliable data on chemical safety.

Perhaps there were some, 25 years ago, who believed that with just a few years of work, we could finish the job of environmental protection. The reality is, the job is never done.

What have been the major successes and disappointments in meeting environmental goals?

Major successes include dealing quite successfully with point sources of pollution, using the Polluter Pays Principle as a de facto tool for policy integration, and the conclusion and implementation of critical international environmental agreements, such as the Montreal Protocol.

But in virtually all of the OECD countries, air and water pollution remain serious problems, with nonpoint pollution sources posing particularly difficult challenges. We face very serious global environmental threats -- pollution of our oceans and environmentally-sensitive areas from chemicals and acid rain, and threats to biodiversity from the mismanagement of wetlands and deforestation.

As a global community, we are falling short in our efforts to stave off global warming. The U.S., under President Clinton, is carefully evaluating how to respond to the distressing new findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These distinguished scientists are telling us that they are more certain than ever that human activities are causing global warming, and that this effect is discernible today.

We recognize that the U.S. must play a leadership role in addressing the threat of global warming. All of us in the OECD must do so, for without significant action from us, the developing world will be loathe to accept their responsibilities. And we know that decisions for the post-2000 period cannot wait.

What are the major problems and opportunities at this time?

Individually and collectively, we continue to face many fundamental problems. Although the public continues to support strong environmental protection in most countries, many people see no clear link between their behavior and a variety of environmental problems such as the congestion and pollution from motor vehicle use. The adverse results of "globalization" such as job insecurity make it even more difficult to enlist the individual as a stakeholder in environmental protection. Promoting environmentally-preferable behavior by providing information (e.g., through appropriate pricing or eco-labels) is both technically and politically difficult.

Basic science is being politicized, thereby losing its credibility, and research budgets are falling. The polarized national and international debates on environmental protection only delay or even block agreement on the cooperative action needed to address common, increasingly difficult problems. This also seriously damages our leadership.

Finally, we are only slowly addressing the underlying causes of environmental problems. Many laws, economic subsidies and pricing systems are disincentives to sound environmental practice.

But the same lessons we have learned -- sometimes painfully -- over the past 25 years have also revealed opportunities for improving our environmental management practices in the coming years. There is a growing emphasis on cleaner production and waste minimization. Moreover, there is a growing realization by industry, NGOs, labor and government that we must work cooperatively on flexible, innovative solutions (such as performance-based standards) to national and international environmental problems.

Within the U.S., Project XL and other initiatives challenge business and communities to take more initiative in protecting our environment, finding new ways not just to meet pollution standards, but to exceed them.

In the past two years, the number of companies voluntarily committing to prevent pollution -- by conserving water, saving energy, cutting air pollution -- increased by nearly 75

Through what we call the Common Sense Initiative, in six key industries, we bring together industry leaders and environmental leaders to take off their adversarial hats and figure out how this industry can get the very best environmental results. What makes sense for an oil refinery? What makes sense for a printing plant or an electronics firm?

We have expanded our Community Right to Know program, to give citizens -- and businesses -- more information about toxic pollution in their neighborhoods -- to give people the tools to reduce pollution and protect their communities.

All of these are strategies and opportunities that work for business, communities and people across the U.S. All of these take us to the future. They are very much in line with the findings of the President's Council on Sustainable Development (or PCSD), which, in several weeks, will issue a report on its work over the past three years.

The Council's report states that "The future of the United States - its security, its prosperity, and its environment - is inextricably linked to the world", and recommends that the U.S. "promote economic and national security by actively participating in and leading cooperative international efforts to encourage democracy, support scientific research, and enhance economic development that preserves the environment and protects human health."

Today, OECD member countries have the opportunity to move forward into the future by building on our history of leadership in protecting public health and our environment. The four Council actions -- on lead risk reduction, PRTR, and improving the environmental performance of both governments and the OECD -- are forward-looking, common-sense, cost-effective strategies to do this.

Each of our nations has an obligation to do all we can to protect our environment at home and around the world. We are fortunate today, because the strong ties among our nations give us the opportunity to work as partners toward the goal of environmental protection around the world.

In the U.S. today, we are faced with an unprecedented attack by Congressional leaders who seek to roll back the public health and environmental protections that Americans have long enjoyed. But Congressional leaders have not been successful in this effort. The American people remain solidly in support of strong public health and environmental protections.

All of us come here today with a strong mandate from the citizens whom we serve. The people of our nations, the people of the world, want fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, food that is abundant and safe to eat, land that is safe to live on.

Let us strengthen our cooperation here today, and let us find new opportunities to move forward -- so that we can be proud to pass along a safer, healthier world to our children.