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The National Association of Counties The Washington Hilton, Washington DC

03/02/1998
EPA Administrator Carol Browner Remarks Prepared for Delivery to The National Association of Counties
The Washington Hilton, Washington DC

                         March 2, 1998


     Thank you President Johnson for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be here with you today, and with my colleague Secretary Cuomo, Mr. Pierce, and with the distinguished panelists.

     NACo was the first group to whom I spoke when I became EPA Administrator -- five years ago -- and I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk to you now about the progress this administration has made for cleaner, safer, healthier, and yes, more sustainable communities throughout the nation.

     Sustainability. Ask a dozen people to define the term, and you will likely get as many answers -- especially if you're in a roomful of policymakers. At EPA, we believe it boils down to one simple, positive phrase: We can grow the economy and at the same time protect our environment and public health -- for our children, our children's children, and all the generations to come.

     But sustainability is something that cannot be dictated from Washington. It is community by community, that we build a sustainable nation -- and nation by nation, that we build a sustainable world.

     Our communities are the building blocks so they must be strong, they must be stable, they must be long-lived -- they must be places where neighbors work together -- business owners, local planners, community leaders, government, ordinary citizens -- creating in partnership healthier, economically vibrant places to live and work and play -- not just for our lifetimes, but far into the future.

     This is our guiding philosophy, a fundamental underpinning of our work for the past five years. Give people the tools, give them the information, give them the space to sit down together and talk and be creative, and there's no end to how sustainable we can make our communities. We can save jobs in our neighborhoods, we can create jobs, and still safeguard our environment and public health. We have shown this time and time again.     Consider brownfields -- just five years ago thought only as places of despair, neglect, and hopelessness. Soon after President Clinton, Vice-President Gore and I came to office, we became determined to write a different ending for the story of brownfields. We wanted to replace despair with promise. Neglect with renewal. Hopelessness with vision and optimism.

     From our earliest efforts, we knew that our success hinged upon building strong, effective partnerships anchored in the community -- communities that are so often held back by these sites.

     To test out the partnership concept, our first pilot project in Ohio's Cuyahoga County was designed around a brownfields working group made up of county and state officials, lenders, bankers, businesses large and small, and, of course, neighborhood residents.

     The project was a rousing success -- more than 180 permanent jobs, more than a $1 million boost to the tax base, greenfields spared from bulldozers, and most importantly, a collaborative, local-based partnership that, to this day, remains a model for brownfields renewal across the country.

     We now have nearly 130 brownfields pilot projects coast to coast, with about 30 more to be announced in the next few months.
     
     Yes, we have made great strides. These communities have much to be proud of. But we know our work is not done. Far from it. We have heard from you, the county managers, and city and community leaders across the country that while EPA excelled at our local partnerships, we had been neglecting our federal partnerships. The piecemeal nature of federal assistance was not always helping -- in fact, it was sometimes hindering -- your efforts to revitalize your communities.

     That is why we initiated the National Brownfields Partnership, to rally the federal family. When we started talking -- EPA, HUD, Transportation, Labor, and about 15 other federal agencies -- we found we could put together exciting models of cooperation. We could do a better job for you if we pooled our time, resources, our staff talent.

     Proof lies just a few hours from Washington -- in Northhampton County, Virginia near the Chesapeake Bay. The county has received assistance and nearly $2 million in federal funding not from one source, but several: EPA, HUD, the Agriculture Department, Interior, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  

     The result is an industrial park that is a model of pollution prevention -- and built on an abandoned landfill and railyard. In short time, the park attracted a European solar technology company. And today, nimble-fingered crabpickers assemble solar panels.  Federal money also was used in Northhampton County for an adjacent natural park, more than 100 acres of coastal maritime forest, and planning for the Northhampton Heritage Trail.

     In the next weeks, EPA, HUD, and our other federal partners will designate at least 10 Brownfields Showcase Communities across the country. We will give them the mission of demonstrating to the rest of the nation how to coordinate their brownfields efforts, how to work with all levels of government to transform brownfields from places of decay into places of promise and renewal.

     I believe Secretary Cuomo would agree, this is government at its best -- working together, responding to local needs, empowering communities to address their challenges, and helping them build the partnerships and get the tools they need to build a future of hope and opportunity.

     Under the watch of the Clinton-Gore Administration, EPA has worked hard to apply this philosophy not only to our Brownfields Program, but to all we do. We believe in putting tools into the hands of those with the will, the passion, the commitment, the creativity to change the way we do business in our communities.

     Last year and this year we are giving $5 million of sustainable challenge grants to communities with innovative ideas on how to bring citizens and businesses and government together to protect both their environmental and economic health. For next year, the President has proposed $10 million.

     In Charlottesville, Virginia, a grant has brought together area counties, along with citizens and businesses to develop a plan to manage the area's explosive development. In New Hampshire, the money was used for sustainable forestry -- in Arizona, better building practices to spare the fragile desert environment.

     Another important tool we can give citizens and local officials is clear, accurate, consistent information so we can build more effective partnerships and together make better, more informed decisions about the health and safety of our communities.

     On the Internet now, you can learn about toxic releases from nearby industry. Last year, President Clinton expanded the right of Americans to know about toxic substances released to their air, land and water.  Now, even more industries must report their toxic releases and they must give us more information.  
     You can also "surf your watershed" to find out the condition of your local stream and river systems. This is just the kind of information the President is calling for in his Clean Water Action Plan -- our new blueprint for cleaning up the nation's waters. Under this plan, federal agencies will be working together to give you even more information about watersheds, the safety of our communities' beaches and drinking water -- so that our partnerships can even more effectively go about the task of restoring the nations' rivers, lakes, and streams.

    As I said earlier, give people the tools, give them the information, give them the space to sit down together and talk and be creative, and there's no end to how sustainable we can make our communities.

     This is what drove us to put our resources into the Joint Center for Sustainable Communities. We believe this forum embodies all that we are trying to do, bringing people together to find solutions. Community by community, county by county, state by state, nation by nation -- it all starts with you, the people on the ground, the people who must find innovative ways to keep our communities safe and healthy and strong.

     Thank you for your hard work, your commitment, and your partnership.