Speeches By EPA Administrator
Administrator Johnson, Second National Water Quality Trading Conference, Pittsburgh, PA05/24/2006
Flying into Pittsburgh this morning, I got an aerial understanding of why its founders chose the confluence of three mighty rivers as the location for this historic city. Quickly becoming the source of industry and commerce, its water resources continue to be valued as a source of economic, recreational and environmental well-being to the present day residents of the Steel City.
The view out the window of the plane also reminded me of the importance of the interdependence between our economy and our environment.
It wasn’t too long ago that our nation’s environmental resources were traded for economic riches – and the results were devastating. Just over three decades ago, America awoke to the health and environmental impacts of rampant and highly visible pollution, contaminated rivers catching on fire, people abandoning towns built on toxic sites, and pollution so thick in some cities that people had to change their shirts twice a day.
Today, we are seeing that we can have a healthy environment and a healthy economy. Since 2001, under the leadership of President Bush, even while our country’s gross domestic product increased by 11 percent, airborne pollutants dropped by nine percent – proving that we don’t need to trade environmental progress for economic growth.
And our successes don’t all just end up in our air. Over the last five years, 16,000 abandoned industrial sites have been made ready for reuse through the Brownfields program. From 2002 to 2003, toxic chemicals released into the environment declined by six percent. And in 2004 alone, 800,000 acres of wetlands were restored or enhanced.
When President Bush asked me to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, he charged me with building on these outstanding results and accelerating the pace of environmental protection while maintaining our nation’s economic competitiveness.
By trading wastefulness for efficiency, water quality trading is helping us meet the President’s call by accelerating the restoration of our watersheds in cost-effective ways.
Focusing on three principles – results, innovation and collaboration, and the best available science – the approach of water quality trading will help us meet our responsibility of passing down a healthier, safer world to the next generation of Americans.
Water quality trading allows us to trade environmental promises for environmental results.
EPA is committed to being a good steward of our environment and a good steward of our tax dollars. By harnessing the power of the marketplace through water quality trading, we are providing the American people with the environmental results they expect and deserve.
Since the passage of the Clean Water Act, we have made significant strides to reduce water pollution – and our waters are cleaner. 35 years ago, the threats to our nation’s water were obvious … we set out to stop the practice of dumping. Today, our water challenges are murkier. A major threat to water quality and sources of drinking water – nonpoint source pollution of excess nutrients, sediments and bacteria – remains a significant challenge throughout the country.
Trading is a way to address the entire needs of a watershed – not just isolated point source discharges. Water quality trading is gaining increased acceptance by our partners on the federal, state and local levels, by industry, and by advocacy as a cost-effective method to solve water quality challenges.
As more and more states adopt water quality trading programs, momentum is building in the development of trading markets. These markets have the potential of delivering greater results by helping resolve large-scale challenges such as hypoxia in the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
As you continue your dialogue on how to advance water quality trading, I encourage you to discuss the kinds of tools needed to best measure the success of your programs and the information that should be collected to enhance your programs’ credibility. Your ideas will help EPA successfully expand water trading programs into more watersheds throughout the country.
This will become increasingly important as communities face the challenges of a burgeoning population. Instead of trading clean water for population growth, water quality trading programs will become an even more of a useful and sensible tool for helping balance these demands.
This leads to the second of the three principles – collaboration and innovation.
Over the years, EPA has learned that when acting alone, mandating rules and regulations, our environmental progress is incremental. However, when we collaborate with our partners – like our partners here in this room – our environmental progress accelerates like water flowing downhill.
As Administrator, I have traded in working alone for working in collaboration.
Water quality trading offers opportunities to bring together businesses, regulators, and municipalities to find creative solutions to improving water quality. It also affords important stakeholders the opening to seek reductions sooner and more cost-effectively. In addition, water quality trading generates competitive markets resulting in new technologies. Through these innovative approaches, we can make better use of our resources and move our nation down a path toward sustainable solutions to water quality challenges.
As we collaborate to meet our environmental and economic objectives, we must be sure to include a key partner – the agriculture community. President Bush and EPA believe that America’s farmers are producers of solutions, not creators of problems.
The culture of environmental stewardship has been an integral part of farm families for generations. EPA would like to build on that history of caring for the land by finding innovative ways to address our water quality challenges. I know that by working together, we can develop solutions that are both economically reasonable and preserve our shared environment.
I am working to strengthen our relationships with our partners in the federal government – most notably with Secretary Johanns – since USDA and EPA share many of the same environmental and agriculture issues. In fact, our two Agencies continue to forge an important partnership for conservation and have agreed to advance water quality trading and ecosystem-based services. This significant commitment is expected to be formally announced by the end of the year.
Water quality trading can allow for the ingenuity and environmental ethic of family farmers to thrive. By working together with the agriculture community, we can do what’s good for agriculture, good for environment, and good for the American people.
As cooperation and collaboration continues to grow between government agencies and our public and private partners, we must remember that our work will not thrive unless it is based on sound science.
As the first EPA Administrator with a scientific background, I know that sound scientific research and analysis is the basis of our achievements and the genesis of our future environmental and economic successes.
By trading in the Magic 8 Ball for the magic of science, water quality trading programs are producing better environmental and economic outcomes … results that go beyond mere regulation compliance.
Sound science is a necessary ingredient for creating water quality trading programs that are accountable – programs that the American public can trust to deliver cleaner water.
The goal of restoring and protecting our watersheds is one of the highest priorities for my Agency, and for our nation. And no one knows this more than the head of EPA’s Office of Water – Ben Grumbles – I’m sure many of you know him.
A few weeks after I was sworn into office just over a year ago, someone came up and told me that Ben was going around telling people that Administrator Johnson’s number one priority was water quality. So I went up to him and said, “Ben, you know I have a number of top goals. Why are you telling the world that water is my most important?” He replied, “Well in your oath of office, you said you ‘would well and faithfully discharge the duties of your office.’ I just assumed that since you spoke about water at your swearing-in, it means water quality is at the top of your list.”
I had to admit he had me.
The quality of the nation’s fresh water supplies remains one of our most precious natural resources – and one that deserves our protection. Just like the residents of Pittsburgh, communities across our country depend on their water assets to increase the health of their environment, the quality of their lives, and the well-being of their families.
I applaud your efforts to expand the use of market-based solutions to achieve and accelerate the protection of our watersheds.
By focusing on results and relying on the best available science, together we can prove that you don’t have to trade environmental progress for economic growth.