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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

The Brookings Institution

10/13/1998
Carol M. Browner, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
The Brookings Institution

Washington, D.C.
October 13, 1998


     Thank you Tom. And thank you to the Brookings Institution for all that you do to bring scholarship, reason, and understanding to our national policy debates. I am delighted to be here today.

     This forum asks a provocative question, "What will the next generation of environmental policy look like. Where does the nation go from here?"

     For some reason, whenever I think of the Brookings Institution, Rene Descartes comes to my mind, and his famous words, "I think, therefore I am." I imagine all of you here at Brookings, chins resting on fists, brows furrowed, thinking hard, "I think, therefore I am going to ask the EPA Administrator the most difficult question I can dream up."

     Well, I've been doing some thinking, too. And I hope to have some answers for you today. The question you ask -- where do we go from here? -- is one the President, Vice President, and I were faced with when we came to office five and a half years ago.

     We recognized that this nation had made great progress since we passed our major environmental laws some 25 plus years ago. And I think few would question this. Our air is cleaner, our water healthier, our land freer from toxic chemicals.

     But our work is not done. We are economists, lawyers, policymakers, in this room -- but we are also parents, aunts, and uncles. Any one of us who has been faced with telling a child that the air is not healthy to breathe, the fish aren't safe to eat, the water too polluted for swimming, recognizes that we still have work to do to protect our environment and public health.

    The question the President and I had to ask was, why? Why haven't our laws finished the job of cleaning our air, water, and land. Why are nearly 40 percent of our surveyed rivers, lakes, and coastal waters still too polluted for swimming and fishing? Why do one-third of Americans live in areas that do not meet EPA's standards for healthful air? Why do four million children live within four miles of a toxic waste dump?

     For some, the reason is that our laws haven't gone far enough, that we need more strict regulation. But others argue the opposite. The problems would be solved best by a market-place unfettered by rules and regulations. This is not an oversimplification. The debate was, and unfortunately often still is, this polarized. Command and control versus marketplace solutions.

     Well, the truth is that today's problems are more complex than they were 25 years ago -- and simple, black and white solutions won't solve them.

     When industrial sewage poured from the end of a pipe, it was relatively easy to know what to do. When buried toxic waste caused people to become ill, we knew we had to clean it up. Americans could see and feel what was happening to their environment, and they demanded action.

     Today, the problems are not as apparent. The sources of pollution are harder to identify, the flow of pollution more difficult to follow.

     Air pollution is borne on the wind hundreds and hundreds of miles from its source. The biggest source of water pollution today is not a large industrial factory, but runoff from parking lots, construction sites, cropland, and other urban and rural areas. Our climate is changing because of human activities.

     In fact, you just can't face a problem that is any more ecologically and politically complex than global warming.

     It became very clear to the President, Vice President, and me that this new generation of problems demanded a new generation of solutions -- a reinvention of the process and system of environmental regulations to make them not only more effective, but less costly and and more sensible.

     Already, we've made real progress.

     Under the leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, we have taken measures to improve our air quality -- the strongest measures in two decades -- that will prevent thousands of premature deaths each year, and improve health protections for people of all ages. These public health standards are based on more scientific analysis, more peer reviewed, published scientific studies -- more than 250 published studies -- than any other standard in EPA's history.

     We've cleaned up more of the nation's hazardous waste dumps in the past five and half years than in the first 12 years of the program. In fact, 90 percent are either cleaned up or in the midst of cleanup -- and we are doing it 20 percent faster and 20 percent cheaper.

     Across this country, we are helping hundreds of cities redevelop their abandoned industrial properties -- the brownfields -- breathing new life into our inner city neighborhoods and at the same time saving pristine, open spaces outside our cities.

     We have expanded the public's right-to-know about the air they breathe, the water they drink -- giving families and communities the information they need to become active participants in how best to protect their family and their community.
 
     This administration has made headway against many obstacles, against many odds because we've kept a few fundamental principles in mind.

     Public health comes first with tough, protective standards and vigorous enforcement of these standards.

     Second, environmental protection and economic progress go hand-in-hand.  Over the past five-and-a-half years, this administration has proven time and time again -- with brownfields redevelopment, cleaner cars, new environmental technologies -- that you can have strong environmental protection and still have robust economic growth and prosperity.  

     We do not have to choose between our health and our jobs. This country has some of the toughest protections in the world, and our economy is strong.

     Third, we know that government cannot go it alone. We already know that progress hinges on people working together -- industries, governments, and communities -- to find solutions and get the job done.

     It hinges on providing incentive -- rewards for those willing to go beyond compliance with the law, to push the envelope, and to create new technologies and new ways to prevent pollution.
     
     It hinges on tapping into the core of what has long made this country great -- our innovation, ingenuity, our entrepreneurial spirit.  

     So when you ask, Where do we go from here? What will the next generation of environmental protection look like? -- I believe, in some sense, we already are in the process of answering that question.

    As just one example, last week we announced a new voluntary program -- developed in partnership with the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, and EPA. Historically, EPA has had only limited authority to require broad-scale testing for the majority of chemicals in commerce. Through this agreement, 3,000 of the most widely used chemicals will be tested for health effects and the information made public.

     The testing framework was developed jointly by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Chemical Manufacturers Association. EPA will serve as a backstop to ensure appropriate testing and availability.

     This is a wonderful example of how we -- industry, government, and environmentalists -- can work together to make a difference to protect the health of all Americans. We in this administration believe that this type of voluntary, partnership-driven action is the foundation of today's and tomorrow's work to protect the environment and public health.

     One of the greatest tests of this belief is our effort to fight global warming -- a global challenge requiring all the world's nation's to work together.

     More than 2,000 of the world's experts on the global environment have told us there is ample evidence that, for the first time in history, pollution from human activities is changing the Earth's climate.

     The average surface temperature is now a full degree Fahrenheit higher than it was at the beginning of this century -- and it may rise another two to six degrees over the next century. Already, we've been experiencing the heat. 1998 is well on its way to being another year of record high temperatures.

     Here's what the scientific community says this temperature rise will mean over the course
of the next century:

     More frequent and more intense heat waves, causing thousands more heat-related deaths. Severe droughts and floods will become more common -- like what we've seen across the country this year. Tropical diseases like malaria will expand their range.  Agriculture will suffer.  The oceans will rise, perhaps by several feet over the next century -- swamping many coastal areas.

     As the President has said, this is a great challenge for our democracy.  We have the evidence, we hear the whistle blowing, but most ordinary Americans, in their day-to-day lives, cannot yet see the train coming.

     But those who oppose action are on the march.  It seems like every day there's another ad in the paper, or on TV attempting to portray the fight against global warming as a loser for America.  They warn of dire consequences -- higher fuel prices, economic catastrophe.     These people are not fairly nor accurately presenting the information.

     Just as 2,000 plus scientists are telling us we have a big problem, more than 2,000 economists, including six American Nobel Laureates, are telling us that we can tackle global warming without harming the living standards of the American people. In fact, say these economists, measures to combat global warming could actually improve U.S. productivity.

     Fortunately, some of our industry leaders are not only recognizing this analysis, but acting on it.

     Sir John Browne, CEO of British Petroleum, actually sees economic opportunity in reducing his company's greenhouse gas emissions. The company has committed to a 10 percent reduction in these emissions from 1990 levels by the year 2010 above and beyond what the nations of the world agreed to in Kyoto. This is visionary. This is the kind of leadership that will that will ensure a cleaner, healthier, economically vibrant world in the coming century.

     Addressing the challenge of global warming is not about ratcheting down our economy. It is about investing in new technologies and using America's technological leadership to develop new ways to make things, new ways to get where we want to go, to work and to play.

     It's about economic growth.  Those who are first in bringing energy-efficiency and pollution-reducing technologies to market are going to be very well-positioned in the global economy of the 21st Century.  

     Much of it has to do with getting more out of the energy we are currently using.

     According to the National Academy of Sciences, we can cut global warming pollution by one-fifth -- right now, at no cost -- simply by using technologies that are already on the market.  In fact, many of our industries can actually save money in the process.

     For example, using already available technologies, the typical manufacturing plant can cut its pollution and energy use by 10 to 20 percent -- and recoup its investment in two years.  After that, the yearly cost savings are pure profit.

     We also are looking to make great strides in efficiency and energy savings of the products that many of us use every day in our homes and on the road.

     Soon -- because of a partnership between government and the auto industry -- you'll likely be able to choose a car that gets as much as three times the gas mileage of today's vehicles. Considering that today's typical car emits more than 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, tripling their gas mileage is going to go a long way toward reducing greenhouse gases.     Many homeowners can cut their energy bills by 30 percent by using energy efficient appliances, heating and cooling systems, and building materials, including insulation. The same holds true for office buildings.  These investments pay for themselves over two to four years.

     Already, we have developed partnerships with more than 5,000 U.S. organizations and businesses -- including some of the biggest companies in the country -- to use energy more efficiently in everything from televisions to computers to the lights in office buildings. Another example of this Adminstration's commitment to strong, flexible partnerships rather than old style command and control regulation.

     Just in 1997, these partnership programs together prevented the release of nearly 60 million tons of carbon dioxide. At the same time, these measures saved businesses and consumers more than $1 billion.

     The stakes are high for America's competitiveness. The current global market for energy efficiency products and services across all sectors is estimated to be as high as $80 billion per year, and the market will grow significantly over the next decade. America is a leader in these technologies, but other countries are seizing the opportunity. Japan has recently announced a new set of incentives designed to stimulate $14 billion in new technologies -- including energy-efficient products.

     If America is to keep its competitive edge, we must do the same -- invest in new technologies that prevent pollution.

     That is why the President proposed $6 billion in tax cuts and research and development to encourage innovation, to encourage renewable energy and energy-efficient homes -- to spur more partnerships, more innovation, more creative technologies that will bring us to a new level of competitiveness and a new level of effectiveness as we fight global warming pollution.

     Another major part of his proposal to fight global warming are incentives for industry to develop even better pollution-reducing strategies.  We've found that the best way to do this is through market-based strategies like emissions trading -- where overall emissions are capped and pollution reductions are traded on the open market.  

     We have had great success with emissions trading in our acid rain program   where the costs of compliance are far lower than anyone had predicted. And we have recommended a similar program to 27 eastern and southern states and the District of Columbia as a way to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides -- the principle component of smog -- and meet the public health clean air standards.

    These market-based strategies allow EPA to set tough, scientifically-based standards, while giving state and local governments and industries flexibility to find the most cost-effective ways to reduce pollution. And they get government out of the business of mandating particular technologies.

     You get the picture. This administration gets the picture. Unfortunately, many members of Congress do not.    

     Some in Congress try to discredit sound science and scare the public with dire predictions of economic calamity rather than take responsible, common sense steps to protect public health and the environment. Ten years ago, we saw this in attacks to our acid rain program, catalytic converters, substitutes for ozone-depleting chemicals. How many times did we hear "it will cost too much," or " we don't have the technology"   yet what does history tellus. In the end, when this nation rose to the challenge, we achieved effective environmental and public health protection and continued on our path of a strong economy.

     Now we're seeing the negativity again -- with global warming. Our voluntary energy efficiency programs are smart investments with handsome financial and environmental paybacks. Yet congress has drastically cut the President's budget request for these programs -- costing our economy billions of dollars in wasted energy expenditures and adding billions of tons of carbon dioxide and hundreds of thousands of tons of smog emissions over the next decade.

     These people are on the wrong path. These voluntary programs have a proven track record, a record that some in Congress ignore. For every dollar spent, we save 70 times that amount on our energy bills.

     Global warming is for real.  We must squarely face its potential consequences. The cost of inaction is high. Although it's difficult to quantify, some respected economists say monetary costs could be nearly $90 billion annually.

     In human terms, the costs are incalculable -- farmers put out of business, coastal areas under water, fresh water turned to salt water, medical advances lost to extinction.

     Let me say here that I thank the Brookings Institution for its research on the economics of environmental and public health protections, and its recent work on cost-benefit analysis. This type of analysis is an important policy tool, to be sure. But let's recognize its limitations. The value of human life, the value of government's moral duty to protect its citizens, the value of forward-thinking actions are largely lost in a strict cost-benefit economic analysis of solutions to this problem. In fact, as the climate debate shows, disputes about whether benefits outweigh costs can get bogged down in endless debates about the legitimacy of underlying assumptions.

    Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is far simpler: "Do we fix our leaky roof on a sunny day, or down the road, when it's raining and the damage is done." The answer -- if you believe 2,000 climate experts, if you believe 2,000 economists -- is now. We have the technology, the know-how, the policies, the "next" generation of environmental protection to solve this enormous problem while enabling the economy to grow.

     We can work together to find the sensible, cost-effective solutions to meet the tough public health and environmental challenges we face. We can once again harness American ingenuity, innovation, and commitment.

     Just as we look back on Descartes and other true thinkers and challengers of the status
quo --100 hundred years from now, let the people of the world look back and say:  They saw the challenge.  They answered the call.  And they did not flinch in the face of their responsibility to build a better world.

     Thank you.