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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Rails to Trails Conference Pittsburgh, PA

06/25/1999
Carol M. Browner, Administrator
 Environmental Protection Agency
                             
                 Remarks Prepared for Delivery
                   Rails to Trails Conference
                         Pittsburgh, PA
                         June 25, 1999
                               
     Good afternoon. I'd like to thank Mayor Murphy for that introduction. I understand that Tom recently bicycled from Pittsburgh to D.C. to promote the restoration of scenic trails between our cities. That distinguishes him from some people in Washington who spend most of their time either back pedaling or going nowhere. Not that I'm going to name names.
     
     I'd also like to wish the Mayor luck with the ambitious bike trail proposal for this city that could change bike paths from being mostly recreational into true commuter routes. That's not only good news for people who love biking, it's also good news for motorists sick of traffic congestion, not to mention the air we breathe.

     I'd also like to thank the sponsors of this conference -- the Rail-to-Trails Conservancy. By converting more than 10,000 miles of abandoned rail lines into scenic trails and greenways, you are doing important work for both your communities, your environment and your economy.

     As we stand in the twilight of the 20th Century, it's interesting to remember how it began. Teddy Roosevelt was the President. And in many ways he founded the environmental movement when he decided to set aside nearly 230 million acres of land as parks and nature preserves.

     Roosevelt believed that each generation has a duty to leave a healthy, thriving environment to the generations that follow. And it was with that vision we began our national commitment to preserve our most beautiful places and incredible vistas -- places that continue to fill so many of us with inspiration and awe.

     Then 30 years ago we began the second phase of the environmental movement as we moved to protection as well as preservation.

     How many of you remember what it was like back then? Our cities were witness to strange, eerie sunsets as the sun's rays streamed through yellow, polluted air. The Cuyahoga River was so thick with pollution it actually caught fire.



     Our nation responded as we always do. When we see a problem, we don't stand around and wring our hands. We roll up our sleeves and get to work. A grassroots movement of concerned citizens from all walks of life sprang up around the country and made their voices heard.

     Soon the Environmental Protection Agency was created. Environmental laws were passed. Federal, state and local governments -- along with industry and environmentalists -- came together. And the work of cleaning and protecting our rivers, lakes and streams -- our air and land -- goes on.

     I have been very proud to serve in this Administration. The President and Vice President have worked hard to secure the public health and environmental protections that the American people want and deserve, while still nurturing one of the strongest economies in our history.

     They have proved that anyone who tells you that you must choose between the environment and the economy is offering you a false choice. We can -- and must -- have both. They are goals in concert, not conflict.

     Under this Administration, 18 million new jobs have been created. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 30 years. And the stock market is soaring.

     At the same time we have put in place unprecedented environmental and public health protections.

     A new, strengthened Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure that our families are guaranteed clean, healthy tapwater. Now 92 percent of our nation's water systems -- which serve 88 percent of the population -- meet all federal health standards.

     The Clean Water Action Plan, a national blueprint for finishing the job of protecting and restoring our rivers, lakes and coastal areas.

     A brownfields program cleaning up and revitalizing abandoned industrial properties in more than 300 communities around the country -- leveraging more than $1 billion in public and private funds -- creating thousands of new jobs -- and turning idle land back to productive and profitable use.

     Four hundred and thirty five Superfund toxic waste sites cleaned up in just six years -- almost three times more Superfund cleanups than the previous Administrations did in 12 years.

     And the list goes on. But the job is not done. And in many ways, in our modern world, it will never be "done." There will always be a responsibility to protect those things we all share. And the great news is that once again we -- as individuals, organizations and communities -- are rising to the challenge.

     We are recognizing that the work of environmental protection is not a job done just in Washington -- or even state capitals. Ultimately, it is a job that must be done community by community.

     We are also recognizing that the job is not simply about protecting a beautiful far away place we may visit on vacation.  It is about protecting places close to home -- where we live and raise our families.  We want more scenic trails, riverfront walks where we can bike, skate or just stroll. We want parks and other shared places where we can gather with our neighbors.

       Last fall, 240 "green" ballot initiatives were considered in states and communities across the country. More than 150 of these measures to enhance local livability were adopted, authorizing $7.5 billion in state and local spending.

       These communities were responding, in part, to the astonishing loss of open space that has occurred across the nation. According to the American Farmland Trust, more than 30 million acres of farmland have been lost since 1970. Thirty million acres!

       That's like paving over the entire state of Pennsylvania.

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

       Our neighbors have become those people we just pass in our cars during commutes that have become longer and more tedious. We are driving 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 tailpipe emissions over the past quarter century.

       And congestion has a cost. Drivers stuck in traffic wasted more than six billion gallons of fuel in 1996, according to a study by the Texas Transportation Institute. That's enough to fill 670,000 gasoline tank trucks or 134 super tankers.

       When you combine both the wasted time with the wasted fuel, the cost to the economy is almost $74 billion. Think of that -- $74 billion literally up in smoke. How many schools could we build with that money? How many college educations could we pay for? How many trails could we convert?

       And so the message our communities sent us last fall was: Enough! They want to see older neighborhoods revitalized; they want their waterways and wetlands protected from pollution; they want an end to the traffic congestion that costs us billions of dollars in wasted time and fuel, and they want to see farmland and open space preserved. They want to see more programs like Rails-to-Trails.

       The President and Vice President understand this desire and have proposed a plan that takes 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 hurtling ever outward.

       As part of the "Livability Agenda" outlined in his State of the Union address, President Clinton announced some new tools to revitalize life within our communities -- be they suburbs or urban centers. One of these tools is called Better America Bonds, a program in which EPA will take the lead in consultation with other Administration departments and agencies.

       This plan offers a creative way for states and communities to buy up even more of those 300,000 miles of abandoned rail lines and turn them into trails and greenways. You can also use Better America Bonds to preserve farmland, create parks or clean up brownfields. You might also decide to improve water quality by restoring wetlands or creating forest buffers to protect streams. Or you can do all those things together. It's very flexible.

       Simply put, the Better America Bonds is about the simplest law you could write to do the greatest amount of good. It's just a quick adjustment to the tax code.

       With Better America Bonds, states and local governments will be able to issue nearly $10 billion in bonds and pay no interest. And they have 15 years to pay back the principal. Investors who buy the bonds receive tax credits from the federal government  equal to the amount of the interest.

       Could it be any easier?

       Let me tell you what Better America Bonds is not. It's not micromanaging local decisions. Under the Better America Bonds program, the federal government will not purchase a single square inch of land. All purchases will be made by state and local governments. We will not get involved in land use and zoning decisions, which -- rightly -- should be made by the communities themselves.

       The new millennium is now just 189 days away. Our cities, towns and communities -- some with centuries of history already behind them -- will need help if they are to be vibrant in the century to come.

       Some, like Pittsburgh, are already charting the course.

       The President's livability agenda is giving them the tools they need to get that job done. Trails and greenways will sprout on abandoned railroad tracks. And they will link together not just our neighborhoods, but our cities and towns as well. Parks will sprout on abandoned industrial sites that are now unsafe for children. And stands of trees -- saved from development -- will protect rivers and creeks for the wildlife that need them and the families that want to enjoy them.

       As Teddy Roosevelt and his generation recognized their duty to save our most beautiful places -- our greatest places - so must we recognize our duty to grow different, to grow smart. To recreate that which made this country so great -- a sense of community -- we need to create those shared places, be they trails, local parks, or perhaps even a simple sidewalk. Shared places where we can come to know our neighbors as more than someone we simply pass in the car -- windows rolled up -- a small wave the extent of our communication.

       I thank all of you for what you do and the difference you make. Something is happening in America -- city by city, town by town, neighborhood by neighborhood. Communities are being reborn. And that is a great thing, not just for us, but our children and our children's children.

       I am fortunate to live in such a place -- to raise my son in such a place -- to know the name of every child on my block and how they are doing in school. This afternoon, I am sure all of the parents will gather together on the sidewalk and review those end-of-the-year report cards the kids will be bringing home today.

       Some would say I live in the city. I would say I live in a neighborhood -- a community -- and what a wonderful place it is.

       Thank you.