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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

“A Better Way”: Prepared Remarks for the National Association of Manufacturers

01/21/2004
Good afternoon and thank you for the invitation to speak to you today. I have now been serving as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for 77 days. It is a fascinating and challenging job and one I am thoroughly enjoying.

Last month I attended my first Cabinet meeting. In some ways, it is exactly as you would imagine. Cabinet members sit at a long oval table with light that streams through the windows that face the rose garden. It gives the room a sense of optimism. Pictures of four presidents hang on the wall: Eisenhower, Washington, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt.

The meetings are efficient. Everyone is prepared. Colin Powell, Secretary of State reported first, then Donald Rumsfeld. When they finished, the President looked straight ahead and said, “We are still a nation at war.” Cabinet meetings are serious business.

The President welcomed me to the Cabinet and then asked me four questions that he said he would repeat at each Cabinet meeting: Is the air cleaner? Is the water more pure? Is the land better protected? And are we doing it in a way that keeps us competitive economically?

His questions defined his passion, my stewardship, and the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Over the Christmas holidays, I met with the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency: Bill Ruckelshaus. He told me a story that I think you will enjoy.

While serving as administrator roughly 30 years ago, he met with a chief executive of a major steel company. After a little small talk the executive said, “Look, I hate the EPA, and I don’t really care much for you. This environmental thing … it’s a fad and it will go away.”

This executive badly misjudged the hearts and minds of the American people. The last three decades have been a period of monumental awareness and progress in environmental protection. None of us see environmental improvement as a fad. You don’t. And I don’t. Rather, we have unified as a nation with an earnest desire to protect our environment. And we’ve made historic progress.

In the past, a tetanus shot was given if a teenager swam in the Hudson River; vistas over western skies were obscured for days on end; people in some of our most polluted metropolitan areas had to change their shirts twice a day, and abandoned factories and industrial sites weren’t just eyesores, they were threats.

And then we woke up.

Our nation responded with new environmental laws – with a commitment from government, communities and industry to take responsibility for our surroundings.

People can now swim, fish and travel in rivers that previously were too polluted. Brownfields are now ball fields. Our nation has cut air pollution in half.

I have great respect for those like Bill Ruckelshaus and thousands of others who pioneered this work. It has been my experience that nearly all of them see their work as hard but necessary. They look now for us to build on their success, and to learn from their experience – to find a better way.

My youngest brother is 22 years younger than I am. He is a doctor fulfilling his residency requirements at Stanford University. He works long hours and is a family man too … in fact, he has six children… all boys and … all under eight years of age!

He told me, “If there is a harder way, we’ll find it.”

His experience reminds me of our country’s environmental progress. The pioneers of environmental progress in America used a command and control strategy. It created a harvest of the low-hanging fruit. Each increment of progress from here gets harder and more expensive.

We are dealing with a new economic imperative; progress has to be made without compromising our competitiveness in a global marketplace. The approach of the last 30 years has become too slow, expensive and conflict-ridden. Today’s problems are more personal, more complex and more expensive. We need “a better way.”

One of my first duties as EPA Administrator was to send letters to 31 governors informing them that 517 counties in their states would likely be designated as non-attainment areas.

As a former governor, I know what these letters mean to impacted counties. First of all, it means their citizens are breathing dirty air and they won’t live as long or as well.

Second, it’s like putting up a red neon sign that says, “Danger, danger. Don’t invest here.”

It means that any expansion or addition of a new road, an airport or business won’t occur unless the community can demonstrate they will achieve conformity.

It gets worse. There are even some non-attainment counties that could clean up power plants in their area, take all the cars off the road and close refineries and factories and they would still be in non-attainment because they live downwind from a distant coal-fired power plant.

Downwind states are beginning to feel the pressure of the red danger sign and have begun to use the only tool available to them – suing their neighboring states. The litigation will go on for years, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

The worst part: through all of this, little is happening to clean up the air.

We need a “better way.”

President Bush has proposed Clear Skies legislation. It would solve this problem, but Congress has not acted. We are committed to prompt passage, but until we get legislation, we are proceeding administratively.

Last month, I signed a suite of air quality rules that will result in the most productive period of air quality improvement in our nation’s history.

The first is the Interstate Air Quality Rule that establishes a cap and trade system that will reduce emissions of NOx and SO2 from coal-fired power plants by 70%.

The second is two approaches to regulate mercury from power plants for the very first time. Our preferred approach will reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 70% at full implementation.

Third, we will be implementing new diesel standards this spring which will be the toughest diesel standards on the planet.

These are examples of the “better way.”

It’s a better way because it moves us away from command-and-control style regulation – regulation that creates incentives to avoid or evade, rather than comply with and exceed standards.

It’s a better way because people do more and they do it faster when they have an incentive to serve the public interest.

It’s a better way because the red danger signs will be gone sooner in nearly every one of the 517 counties expected to be in non-attainment.

It’s a better way because it provides certainty to those who need to invest $50 billion over the next 15 years to upgrade power plants.

It’s a better way because it will remove more tons of pollutants than any comparable period in U.S. history.

It’s a better way because while it will clean the air, it also puts downward – rather than upward -- pressure on natural gas prices.

Most of all … It’s a better way because it protects the health of every American.

There is a better way, and this President and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are implementing it.

Thirty years ago, some were saying this nation’s commitment to clean the air was a fad. Thirty years from now, let them say of us, “they launched a giant leap forward in the velocity of environmental progress.” And let them add, “and they did it in a way that protected our national competitiveness.”

May future generations admire our service. Thank you.