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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

"Our Planet -- Our Children" Environmental Conference

01/21/1996
Carol M. Browner

Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "Our Planet -- Our Children" Environmental Conference Sponsored by Cong. Ed Markey

Lexington, MA

Prepared for Delivery
January 21, 1996

I want to thank Cong. Markey for bringing us together today and for his many years of leadership in protecting public health and our environment. He has been a clear and articulate voice for strong, effective environmental laws, from the Clean Water Act to a stronger Superfund. And he has been a strong, clear voice against today's Congressional assault on public health and environmental protection.

I am glad to be here with my colleague, Secretary Babbitt, and it is a pleasure to be here with all of you. I am particularly glad to be able to talk with you now.

Without a doubt, we are engaged today in the most important environmental debate of the last 25 years. We are engaged in a national debate about the scope and size of the federal government and its resources. The outcome of this debate will shape the lives of each and every person in this country. Some would suggest it is a debate only about balancing the budget -- but in fact it is a debate about so much more.

It is a debate about our values, our quality of life, our children's future. It is about whether we care for the less fortunate among us, for the most vulnerable. It is about whether we maintain a strong federal program to protect those things we all share, and which do not recognize state boundaries -- the air we breathe, the water we drink.

As the President has said, we can balance the budget while upholding American values and honoring our commitments to our elderly, our children, our families, and our environment. The President has delivered a seven-year balanced budget, with numbers certified by the Republican-controlled Congressional Budget Office. The debate is no longer about numbers -- it is now about how. And the how is a debate that affects every family, every business, every community in Massachusetts, in New England, and across this country. Twenty-five years ago, the people of this country united in the firm belief that to protect public health and our environment, we needed to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land on which we live. And in what is really a very short time, we have made tremendous progress.

We no longer have rivers catching on fire. In virtually every city in this country, the air is cleaner than it once was. By banning lead in gasoline, we protected an entire generation of children. We established strong public health standards for drinking water. We stopped the indiscriminate dumping of toxic waste.

The Clinton-Gore Administration, from Day One, has taken action to continue that proud history of progress.

We expanded the public's right to know about toxic chemicals released in their neighborhoods. Under this Administration, in the last two years we cleaned up more toxic waste sites than in the first 12 years of the program. We have aggressively moved to improve the safety of our air and our drinking water, controlling hazardous waste incineration and reducing toxic air pollution. We cut red tape for honest business owners -- but we went after the irresponsible polluters and collected the biggest fines in history.

President Clinton's balanced budget plan will allow us to continue the progress of the past 25 years. If we follow the President's leadership, we can balance the budget and achieve a safe, clean environment for ourselves and for our children.

But if we follow the course the Republicans propose, we will roll back the public health and environmental protections that Americans have enjoyed for 25 years.

Newt Gingrich and his Republican leadership have launched a concerted, orchestrated attack on environmental and public health protection -- beginning a year ago with the Contract with America, and continuing with the Republican proposal to gut the Clean Water Act, and now the EPA budget.

They even told the Republican Members of Congress that if they wanted people to think they were good on the environment they didn't need to strengthen environmental laws and environmental enforcement. All they needed to do was plant a tree and support their local zoo.

I doubt that the American public can be that easily hoodwinked. I don't think the last election was a vote for dirty water or dirty air.

Already, the Republican attack is causing serious disarray in our effort to protect public health and our environment. During the government shutdown, environmental inspections, environmental enforcement, could not be carried out. An estimated $63 million in fines could not be collected. In New England, last year at this time we carried out 140 health and safety inspections; this year we carried out only 60 inspections. More than 100 Superfund cleanups came to a halt, including sites here in New England. Research to protect the public from drinking water contamination stopped. Citizens' requests for information went unanswered.

Last week, the shutdown ended, but EPA is still operating under a reduced budget that limits our ability to protect public health and our environment -- not to mention a tremendous backlog. Imagine 250,000 pieces of mail -- piles of mail -- unopened. We have no idea what's in there -- probably some environmental "landmines."

So much of what we do, after 25 years of very hard work, is to prevent problems before they occur or become worse. Now, after four weeks of a shutdown and a reduced budget, with another government shutdown looming in two weeks, we cannot catch the problem, we cannot prevent the problem. Increasingly, we will be left to administer triage.

This is no way to run a government, no way to protect our health and the health of our environment.

Make no mistake about it: the Republican budget means our air, our food, our drinking water will not be as safe, our environment not as clean.

The President's plan will keep the environmental cop on the beat. But the Republican budget lets polluters off the hook, by cutting enforcement of all environmental laws by 27and giving special deals to special interests.

Here in Massachusetts, 30 Superfund sites need to be cleaned up. The Clinton Administration is accelerating the cleanup of these sites and returning them to productive community use.

But the Republicans want to cut funding for hazardous waste cleanups -- to tell communities across this country, no, we won't clean up that site. And if we do clean it up, they're not sure the polluter should pay -- rather, each one of you would be told to pay to clean up pollution you didn't cause. A special deal for the special interests.

Two-thirds of the rivers and streams here in Massachusetts are too polluted for fishing and swimming. In 1994, Massachusetts had 59 beach closures and advisories because of contamination. The State of Massachusetts has identified 52 aging sewer systems that need repair to avoid overflows of raw sewage into rivers and beaches. And more than 4.6 million residents of Massachusetts are served by drinking water systems that violated public health standards in the past year.

The President's plan will provide money to local communities to help them improve their drinking water systems and keep pollution out of our rivers and beaches.

But what are the Republicans proposing? They would deny the citizens of Massachusetts more than $18 million in funding to protect your drinking water, your rivers, your beaches. New England as a whole would be denied more than $48 million to keep contamination out of drinking water and raw sewage out of rivers and off beaches.

Last spring, President Clinton said he would not be a party to a rollback of 25 years of environmental progress. And he has stood by that commitment. He promised to use his veto pen, and he has done so. He rejected the EPA budget put forward by the Republican leadership because it would not allow us to protect the health of the American people.

The Republican leadership in Congress would have the public believe that these government shutdowns are the President's fault because he won't sign the agencies' budgets or appropriations bills. But please let us remember the Constitution. Congress passes a bill and the President has the right to veto it. Then Congress can either change the bill and send it back to the President or override the veto.

They haven't even tried to override the President's veto of the EPA budget. The government shutdowns are not the President's fault. They are the fault of the Republican leaders in Congress. If they believe that the last election was for dirty water, dirty air -- then there should be no problem finding the votes to override the veto. If not -- then fix the EPA budget. Provide the resources and the tools for us to do our job. Keep the environmental cop on the beat. Stop making special deals for special interests at the expense of the American people.

President Clinton is committed to upholding the basic American values that are so important to the people of Massachusetts. And that's the kind of leadership that will keep our communities healthy and strong.

I would ask all of us to remember that protecting our environment is about protecting where we live and how we live. Let us join together to protect our health, our economy, and our communities -- so all of us and our children and our grandchildren can enjoy a healthy and a prosperous life.

Thank you.