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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

U.S. Conference of Mayors Plenary Luncheon

02/28/2000
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner

U.S. Conference of Mayors Plenary Luncheon
January 28, 2000


Good morning. Thank you Mayor Webb for that introduction. Welcome all of you to Washington.

I was really looking forward to being here this year. Not because of the new millennium and not just because of our work together last year or in the year to come. No, I was especially looking forward to coming here this year because of Sunday. Usually this time of year, Mayor Webb’s Broncos are bound for the Super Bowl. They had a tough year this year and I’m sorry for that. But I’m a Florida native...with three teams in the playoffs...in the words of my son, I had a lock.

Now, there’s nothing left for me to do but congratulate Mayor Harmon of St. Louis and Mayor Purcell of Nashville.

For the rest of our teams, there’s always next year; another chance to improve and be successful. One of the great things about sports is how we measure success – wins and losses; very simple. It used to be almost that simple to judge the success of our towns and cities – growth equals success; the bigger we became, the better off we were.

Today, we know better. What defines so much of what we think of as success for our towns and cities is a sense of community. The sense of community, of neighborhood, depends on the way our homes, offices, schools and public buildings blend together and are linked by transportation.

And it's that sense of community I want to talk to you about today. As we begin this new millennium, we are faced with a challenge of how to keep our communities vibrant. How do we provide sustained economic growth, yet still protect our vast open spaces?

How can we keep our communities moving forward, yet relieve the gridlock on our roads that so often grind us to a halt?

The good news is, these are not either/or choices. A growing economy and a healthy environment are goals in concert, not in conflict.

This Administration has proposed innovative ways to spur job creation, revitalize our inner cities and suburban areas and still protect every American's right to clean water under clear skies.

We must continue to grow. But we have to grow smart.

One of the most important steps is to reclaim and revitalize those abandoned industrial sites we call Brownfields.

Just look at the numbers.

Recently Vice President Gore released figures showing that the loss of farmland and other open spaces to development more than doubled in recent years.

The new figures, contained in the Department of Agriculture's National Resources Inventory, show that between 1992 and 1997, nearly 16 million acres of forests, farmlands and open spaces were converted, paved over, developed. At this rate, in a decade we will have bulldozed the land equivalent of states like Pennsylvania or Mississippi.

But while all that land was being swallowed up, hundreds of thousands of acres of Brownfields sat idle. Your own report on this crucial subject estimated that developing that land could bring in almost $1 billion to nearly $3 billion in tax revenue annually, create nearly 700,000 new jobs and take some of the development pressure off of our forests, our farms, our open spaces.

And with this loss of green space comes environmental consequences. Consider this: A one acre parking lot generates 16 times more polluted runoff than a meadow.

The runoff washes toxic chemicals and other pollutants into our waters, lakes and coastal areas, making them unfit for the wildlife that depend on them and unsafe for the families who want to enjoy them.

These growth patterns have also changed our sense of where we live. They’ve changed our sense of community.

Our neighbors have become those people we just pass in our cars during commutes that become longer and more tedious. We now drive our cars almost 60 percent more than in 1980. At EPA we estimate that all this extra driving will -- in 10 to 12 years -- overtake all the gains we have made in reducing air pollution in the past 25 years.

There's a health cost. It's no coincidence that asthma rates are also on the rise. Since 1980, children under five years old suffered a 160-percent increase in asthma rates. It is now the most prevalent chronic illness for children under 17.

There's an economic cost to congestion as well. Drivers stuck in traffic wasted more than six billion gallons of fuel in 1997, according to a study by the Texas Transportation Institute. That's enough fuel to fill 670,000 gasoline tank trucks or 134 super tankers.

When you combine both the wasted time and the wasted fuel, the cost to the economy: almost $72 billion. Think of that -- $72 billion literally up in smoke. How many schools could we build with that money? How many college educations could we pay for?

The President, the Vice President, understand these problems and have proposed plans to reverse these trends. They want to take us into the future by rediscovering the joys of our past --a past when cities and towns exerted a gravity that kept commerce and culture swirling nearby, rather than spiraling ever outward.

In May 1997, the Vice President announced the Brownfields National Partnership Action Agenda, which offered our communities both financial commitments and technical advice from more than 25 Federal agencies and partners.

In just a few years, local communities have received more than $385 million for Brownfields redevelopment, with another $140 million in loan guarantees.

Dallas, Texas, is one of those communities. Dallas has received more than $1.9 million in financial and technical support from EPA and other agencies. It has been money well spent. That money helped attract another $109 million in private investment.

I visited the city last year and was amazed to see a brand-new arena rising on the site of what had been an abandoned Brownfield.

I see that kind of progress everywhere I go. Another model city -- Stamford, Connecticut -- this fall became the first city in the nation to issue a loan from EPA's Brownfields revolving loan program to help finance the redevelopment and revitalization of its waterfront area.

As we've seen in places like Baltimore and St. Louis: revitalizing these waterfront areas can be crucial for both economic redevelopment and environmental enhancement because it connects us, reconnects us with our waterways.

According to a study released in October by the Council for Urban and Economic Development, for every dollar the federal, state and local governments put into revitalizing Brownfields, almost $2.50 in private investment was attracted.

That report also reviewed 109 completed Brownfields sites and found that more than 8,000 construction jobs were created. Once the work was done, another 22,000 jobs were either created or retained.

We like those kinds of numbers. That’s why this Administration will continue to work to expand Brownfields opportunities to more communities.

There’s more we can do, but to really get the job done, we need Brownfields legislation.

The President wants to pass a Brownfields bill this session that would benefit communities across the country. The Administration has reached consensus on a strong stand alone Brownfields bill with the National Association of Homebuilders.

If the Administration and the National Association of Homebuilders can see eye to eye on environmental legislation - then surely others can also. It addresses all of the areas of concern we have heard, including liability protections for prospective purchasers, innocent landowners, and contiguous property owners. It also enhances and expands our current grant program.

I don’t need to tell you the significance of this Administration and the Homebuilders coming to agreement. It means Brownfields legislation can happen, this year. Let me be clear about what won’t happen. Superfund legislation will not happen. We will not agree to Republican legislation that weakens environmental standards.

I know that the Conference of Mayors has supported some of that legislation, but I believe that Brownfields legislation can pass only as a stand-alone bill. We can pass Brownfields, we should pass Brownfields.

Another Administration proposal that helps communities is called Better America Bonds, which the Vice President announced last year. Better America Bonds would allow local and state governments to issue nearly $10 billion in bonds they could use to clean up Brownfields, preserve open space, protect water quality -- or all those things together.

This new financing tool will provide a deep subsidy to communities. With these tax credit bonds, communities will never pay a dime in interest and can wait 15 years before paying back the principal. Investors who buy the bonds receive tax credits equal to the interest they would have received on the bonds.

EPA and the Treasury Department estimate that a community that issues a one million dollar bond, for example, would ultimately realize savings of 50 percent over a traditional tax-exempt bond.

Bonding authority will be distributed directly to the communities through a competitive process. We’ll run it like our Brownfields program, which has provided over $60 million to more than 300 communities across the nation to help them redevelop idle industrial sites. These partnerships have helped communities leverage more than $1 billion in investment capital and created thousands of jobs.

Better America Bonds legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate.

We want to ensure that every family in every community has the chance to share in our nation's new prosperity. And that they can do so while still maintaining a high quality of life. A quality of life that means more time gathered with our families around the dinner table and less time stuck in a lonely car on crowded roads.

While community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, we all continue our good work to cleanup and redevelop Brownfields, we at EPA are also continuing our important work on national programs and efforts to protect our communities, our health and our environment.

Most important in those efforts are our current efforts to dramatically lower the air pollution caused by cars, SUVs and big trucks.

In a program President Clinton announced just before Christmas, we will hold sport utility vehicles and light-duty trucks to the same national tailpipe pollution standard as cars. For the first time ever we are treating tailpipe emissions and gasoline as a single system. Not only will manufacturers build cleaner cars but refiners will be producing cleaner fuels
that contain less sulfur.

When these programs are fully implemented, Americans will still be able to drive as much as they like in the vehicle of their choice. But we will also have cut air pollution from cars and trucks by 80 percent of what they are today. Eighty percent. That's like eliminating the pollution of 166 million cars.

The new millennium is now here. But this Administration began writing its history in the past century in places as small as a single revitalized neighborhood block to the restoration of the vast expanse of the Everglades.

This Administration understands that it is about community -- and making that word special again.

And you -- as the leaders of our towns and cities -- are deeply involved.

A favorite word for a team that hasn’t had such a good year is “rebuilding.” It’s a matter of putting the right people and the right amount of money in the right places. You also have that responsibility, but you have it every day and much more than that: you have a new and difficult responsibility of “rethinking”: rethinking what our communities should look like a dozen, a hundred years from now.

The decisions we make today -- the way we rethink -- will define our entire civilization.

When you work to build livable communities, you are creating a legacy that will echo generations into the future. Future families will look at the buildings, the private and public spaces, the thoughtful configuration of roads and transportation systems.

And they will be glad that back in the year 2000, there were leaders looking ahead.We can put in place tools to make our communities thrive and our families prosper. And we can do this while still preserving our forests and farmlands and guaranteeing clean air and pure water for every American. And by doing this, we are creating a future of economic, cultural and civic vitality for all our communities. Yet we will also leave preserved our great natural wonders to inspire the same awe in generations to come as they did for generations past.

Thank you.