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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

National Young Leaders Conference, Washington, D.C.

02/07/2003
Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,

Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,

at the

National Young Leaders Conference

Washington, D.C.

February 7, 2003


Good morning. I am pleased to again be able to address the National Young Leaders Conference.

This has been another difficult week in our national life. The loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its crew of seven brave astronauts has again reminded us of the fragility of life and the limits of technology. But it has also reminded us of the ability we all have to make a positive difference in the world.

Each of the Columbia seven sought to use their skills and abilities to advance our understanding of the world in which we live, to travel to the dark, hostile environment of space to bring the light of knowledge back home to Earth. Their loss is a tragedy for their families and our Nation. But their lives and the way they lived them represent the triumph of the human spirit.

I hope you will find, as I have, inspiration in their bravery, their dedication to duty, and their commitment to mankind. For each of us truly does possess the ability to be part of a cause greater than ourselves, if only we are selfless enough and daring enough to tap into it.

That is really what being a leader is all about B being part of a cause greater than yourself. All of you who are here today B having traveled from 40 states, representing hundreds of different communities, are here because you are young leaders. Being a leader is not easy. It means taking a stand, subjecting yourself to criticism and second-guessing, trying to meet often unrealistic expectations others have for you B and you have for yourself.

But when you believe in something B really believe in it B the sacrifices are worth it. At the end of the day, you will know that you = ve made a difference, that you were willing to put yourself on the line for something important. For leadership without a cause is empty. Those who seek leadership for their own glory are pursuing it for the wrong reasons and won = t find satisfaction. Glory is fleeting B accomplishment is not.

In ancient Rome, when a general would return from an important military victory, a great parade would be held for him. He would be drawn through the city streets in a chariot, cloaked in purple robes, his face painted red, the crowds cheering B their version of a ticker tape parade.

Standing right behind the general in his chariot was a slave. Over the general = s head, he held a golden laurel. In the general = s ear he whispered, again and again, A Sic transit gloria mundis, worldly fame is transitory, worldly fame is transitory.@ This was supposed to keep the general = s ego from getting out of control.

Today, of course, very few of us remember the names of any of these generals B in fact, few of us remember the names of the generals who led us to victory in World War II. But what really matters is not so much what their names were (except, perhaps, on a test), but what their deeds were. And those deeds were not the general= s alone. There isn = t a single general in history who won a battle by himself B they all depended on the soldiers under them.

All of you here today will live most of your lives in the 21st century. The years and decades ahead will offer you incredible opportunities to help literally re-make the world in which you will live, whether at the head of a great undertaking or as one of the people who helps makes things happen. Leaders aren= t just the people in charge B they = re anyone who steps forward to make a difference.

As the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, I can tell you that we are looking for leaders all across America B people who want to make a difference for the health of our environment. In ways big and small, the future of our planet depends on people like you stepping forward to be part of a cause larger than yourself.

I = d like to share with you two examples B one big, one small B of how people are going to make a difference for our environment in the years ahead. First the big one.

Yesterday, President Bush and I participated in an event not far from here to promote the development of hydrogen fuel cells B a clean, limitless source of energy that will probably fuel the first car your children will drive.

Hydrogen-fueled cars seem like something out of science fiction B a car that runs on the most abundant element in the universe, which produces absolutely no pollution B just water vapor. Imagine, 20 years from now, standing on a street corner when a hydrogen-fueled bus drives by. Instead of a face-full of diesel exhaust, the only thing you = ll notice is a gentle mist, no thicker than the thinnest fog.

Right now, it costs four times as much to produce hydrogen fuel as it does gasoline and ten times as much to produce a hydrogen fuel cell as it does a traditional car engine. That = s why President Bush wants to spend $1.2 billion over the next five years to help develop an affordable, efficient hydrogen fuel cell car and the infrastructure needed to support it.

This is an exciting investment in the future B and one that will help make the air you and your children breathe much cleaner and healthier than what we breathe today.

While this new technology takes leadership from the top, it also takes lots of work on the ground. The hundreds of scientists, researchers, and engineers who will bring this idea to fruition won = t get their names in the history books B but the results of their efforts will be gratefully remembered for generations.

Among you may be the future scientist who will, in a few years, make the critical discovery that takes hydrogen-powered cars off the drawing board and into the driveway, from a futuristic concept to everyday reality. And while you may not be the one who gets to drive the first mass-produced hydrogen-fueled car off the assembly line for all the world to see, you will know that you helped lead a true environmental revolution.

There = s another way all of you can help lead the way to a brighter environmental future B and I know this will seem simple, but it will really mean a lot B and that = s by recycling. Last year, EPA launched a new Resource Conservation Challenge to raise the national recycling rate to at least 35 percent. Then last month, EPA launched a new campaign to encourage Americans to recycle their old computers, TVs, cell phones, and other electronics.

Each year, more than 3.2 million tons of electronic waste ends up in landfills all across America. You know better than anyone, perhaps, how quickly your computer becomes obsolete, or how often you replace your cell phone with a newer, better model. We estimate, for example, that by 2005, 130 million mobile phones will be thrown out every year. That = s a lot of busy signals.

When these items wind up in landfills, they can pose real environmental hazards. Such toxics as chromium, mercury, and lead can end up in ground water, threatening drinking water supplies, as well as lakes, rivers, and streams.

I would urge each of you, when you get back home, to be a leader and work in your community to encourage proper recycling of electronic goods. Already, some cities arrange for separate pick-ups or drop-off locations for these items. If your community doesn = t already do that, you can make it happen. If they do, you might want to help launch a public awareness campaign to promote what we call e-cycling.

If you do take up this challenge, I = d urge you to check out our web site at www.epa.gov and read about the President= s Environmental Youth Awards program we sponsor each year. These awards recognize outstanding efforts by students to improve the environment.

For each of the past two years, our winners from around the country have come to Washington and received their awards from the President at a special White House ceremony. Who knows, maybe I = ll see some of you next year in the Rose Garden.

Even if that doesn = t happen, I hope you will keep in mind the words of Lt. Col. Michael Anderson, one of the crew of Columbia who lost his life last Saturday in the service of his country and of all mankind. At the Memorial Service held for the crew earlier this week, President Bush recalled something Lt. Col. Anderson used to tell students when he would visit their schools. He said, "Whatever you want to be in life, you're training for it now."

That = s good advice. Leaders are not born, they = re made. Maybe even more to the point, they make themselves. The choices you are making now will mold the adult you will become tomorrow. Finding a cause greater than yourself in your school or neighborhood today will prepare you for even bigger things in the years ahead. It = s nice to be chosen as a leader, but first know why you want to lead B and what you want to accomplish B before you seek a leadership role. That will not only make you a better leader, it will make you a better citizen and a better person.

So as you return home from this conference, I hope you will do so with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to find the cause greater than yourself of which you want to be a part. Those of us who have spent most of our lives in the 20th century are counting on you to make the 21st century a time of peace, prosperity, and progress for all the people of the world.

Thank you.