Speeches By EPA Administrator
National Environmental Policy Institute, Washington, D.C.03/08/2001
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
National Environmental Policy Institute
March 8, 2001
Thank you, David (Struhs), for that introduction.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today. I also want to congratulate you for organizing this Summit around what is a very timely topic.
I can say with a fair degree of confidence that President Bush shares your determination to make sure that state and local priorities move to Washington – that’s why he has asked a number of state and local officials to move to Washington to join his Administration.
The President knows from his years as governor of Texas that not all wisdom resides here in the Nation’s Capital. Those of us who have been out there beyond the Beltway know that there are a lot of good things going on. State, county, and local governments are finding effective, innovative, and common sense solutions that can be put to use – or adapted as needed – in other parts of the country.
That’s why the President has asked people like my friend, Governor Tommy Thompson, to leave Wisconsin to run the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s why he invited my colleague, Secretary Rod Paige, to move from running the Houston schools to running the Department of Education. I also think that’s why he asked me to serve in his administration. He knows that those who have been out in the trenches can offer Washington an important perspective, a new point of view.
That’s something NEPI knows, as well. When I looked at your web site the other day, the first thing I saw was this simple statement that defines your group: “Seeking common ground to reach environmental goals.” That sums up nicely what I believe should be an important part of our approach to environmental policy making: Finding the common ground that will achieve our goal – namely, preserving, protecting, and improving our environment while strengthening the economy 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 that common ground. America is ready to move beyond the command and control model that has 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 and we began our great national effort to clean up and protect our environment. Over that time, many of you have played an instrumental part in creating and managing that effort.
Together, we have become very familiar with EPA and its role. We have watched the development of mature and successful state programs. We have seen a major change in the expectations of American citizens and in the beliefs we instill in our children.
We have also seen a transformation in the way many American and global business executives approach their environmental responsibilities. Where once they viewed environmental requirements as unwanted intruders, many business leaders now make superior environmental performance an inherent part of their business strategy – building a strong commitment to environmental health and safety into the underlying beliefs of their companies.
As we look over the past three decades, we can all agree that EPA’s work has been enormously important to the real success we’ve had in cleaning up and protecting our country. By nearly every measure, our environment is healthier today than it was in 1970. Our air is cleaner, our water purer, and our land better protected. 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 success would not have been possible without the hard-working, dedicated, and committed professionals at EPA and in state and local government who care very deeply about protecting America’s environment for our children and grandchildren. But the ground has shifted – the basic assumptions that drove environmental policies have changed. Now 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?” To me, the answer is clear. I have seen this approach work – and work well – in my home state, New Jersey. Let me give you two, brief examples.
Several years ago, New Jersey was one of the first states selected to join with the EPA in the National Environmental Performance Partnership System – or NEPPS. Very briefly, NEPPS works as follows. Washington tells the state what environmental goals it must meet. Then, the state decides how best to meet those goals.
As governor, I loved NEPPS for two simple reasons. First, because it acknowledged that I was partner of the EPA in our shared goal of improving New Jersey’s environment. Second, because it allowed me to develop the means by which we would meet the goals Washington set. Every governor will tell you that they know better than Washington what will – or won’t – work in their states. NEPPS gives governors the opportunity to prove that’s true.
Something else I’ve seen work in my home state is EPA’s Project XL. I know that name brings to mind a top secret missile defense program. What Project XL really is, however, is an EPA program that looks for innovative state programs and then works to make them available to other states.
Project XL is working with New Jersey on their Silver and Gold Track program – an innovative, incentives-based program for cleaning the air, water, and land. Without going into all the details, the Silver and Gold Track program provides a fair degree of regulatory flexibility to companies that agree to meet certain environmental goals that exceed regulatory standards.
The program was first launched in my state about five years ago – and it has worked so well they’re building on it. Because it is off to such a great start, EPA is now piloting Silver and Gold through Project XL, so other states will be able to benefit from New Jersey’s experience.
NEPPS and Project XL are both excellent models of how EPA should work with all environmental stakeholders. They focus on results and build partnerships that help achieve those results. They provide positive incentives and produce positive results. They prove that we are ready to move from command and control to cooperation and accomplishment
That being said, however, I don’t believe in governing by anecdotal evidence alone. While I’ve seen partnerships succeed and attitudes change, I also know that the past ten years have seen the creation of a major body of work that provides a road map to the relationships, laws, and institutions of our future.
I know, for example, that our host, Don Ritter, as the Chairman of the National Environmental Policy Institute, along with others at this Summit have spent considerable time and effort examining innovations such as NEPPS. I know that reports from the National Academy of Public Administration and other groups such as the Reason Foundation and the Enterprise for the Environment have all taken a hard look at whether our current laws and institutions our well suited for the future.
I believe it is time that we move beyond study. We are ready to begin to build the foundation for how we will work together in protecting our environment for the next 30 years. My staff and I are undertaking our own review of the ways in which we can transform EPA to better serve my goals for transforming the way the Agency interacts with all the environmental stakeholders. I would also like your help in this effort.
I’d like to ask those of you here today to provide me with specific recommendations on steps I can take at EPA to foster the change we all agree is needed. I’d like the benefit of your thinking on issues such as the structure of the EPA and its relationship with the states. I’d be interested in your views on the various innovative programs states are using and your analysis of how to change whatever federal-level roadblocks might exist to sharing those programs. I want you to share with me the wealth of knowledge and experience you have gained in looking at these issues.
As we move forward, there’s one thing I will always keep in mind: the changes we make in how EPA goes about its work are designed to reach one major goal – to leave America’s environment cleaner when we’re done than it was when we started. Changing process is important, so long as it promotes better results. At the end of the day, I’ll measure our success by asking questions like these: is our air cleaner; is our water purer; is our land being restored?
Those are the true measures of whether EPA is meeting its mission. It’s a mission I believe we share, and one I believe we can work together to achieve. For my part, I look forward to working with you to find the common ground and to walking it together to reach our shared environmental goals.