Contact Us

Newsroom

Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

July 4th Patriotic Service

07/04/2004
Something quite memorable happened to me yesterday and I want to express appreciation. I rode in the parade as Grand Marshall. I have not been away from Utah long, but it still felt like a reunion – a warm “glad to see you again,” get-together with people I care about. I was struck by how much like a neighborhood a crowd of 250,000 people can feel, and how many of those people seemed genuinely familiar to me. Perhaps that is a natural benefit of being Governor of this great state for eleven years. My current service on the President’s Cabinet is rewarding, but I miss you.

Like you, I pay tribute to the accomplishments and example of those we honor as Freedom Award Recipients. I am among those who were inspired to public service by President Reagan and his vision of a shining city on a hill. I congratulate the other Freedom award winners. I spoke with one of them, Emad Dhia. I asked him what he had learned from his experience in Iraq. Emad’s response spoke volumes: “Iraqi people hunger for freedom.”

The proximity of Iraq's sovereignty and the 4th of July has been on my mind all week. It is a reminder that democracy and freedom never come easily.

I have had personal reminders. The Cabinet room in the White House is next to the Oval Office. It is an optimistic room with light streaming in from the Rose Garden. Each President chooses the portraits that hang during the time of their service. President Bush has chosen Dwight Eisenhower, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt.

Cabinet meetings are serious business, no words are wasted. During one of our recent meetings, the President turned to the Secretary of State who reported on the situation in the world, then to the Secretary of Defense for a report on the war.

As he moved on to other cabinet reports, President Bush said, “Let us never forget we are a nation at war.” I felt the weight war brings. It was a reminder; democracy and freedom never come easily.

The World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. was recently completed. It celebrates the generation of Americans who fought and won a war that spread across six of the seven continents, killed fifty million people, and brought destruction to entire regions of the world.

Late one evening recently, I walked from my apartment near the Washington Mall to see the World War II Memorial. With the Capitol Building at my back, I walked past the Washington monument. In the distance I could see the Lincoln memorial.

As I read the inscriptions carved in the marble and paused to let the symbolism settle on me, I felt the powerful spirit of the place. I watched as a man in his 80s wept quietly in remembrance of personal and shared ordeals. I saw children counting the 4,000 stars affixed to a wall; each a symbol of 100 Americans who died.

A granite tower has been erected for each state. I noticed a letter that had been carefully left at the base of the Texas column. A daughter wrote to her deceased father: “I know how much this day would have meant to you. I have never been more proud to be your daughter than I am today. To you and the rest of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ thank you for all you did and may God bless you all. I love you Daddy and miss you every day. Beth.” It was a reminder: Democracy and freedom never come easily.

From the Greatest Generation through the soldiers who fought in Viet Nam, there comes a new generation of defenders and liberators. The same nation that produced Patrick Henry also produced Patrick Tillman. That is the character of America – and the lineage. It is not so different from the America of 1776 when we defied a king and seized our own destiny.

We are still very capable of dumping the tea. It’s our nature. (Although as Administrator of the EPA I would have to insist on cleanup and remediation of the harbor afterward!) It is the lesson of our nation’s founding and survival. We declared our independence in 1776 over what our forebears called “a history of repeated injuries” … “usurpations” … and “absolute despotism.”

Sixty years ago, we took on the German Reich and Imperial Japan to turn back invasion and the Nazi regime. We have fought against communism, against slavery and against ethnic cleansing. And now we fight against terrorism. Our belief in freedom has taken us from the beaches of Normandy to the jungles of Southeast Asia and now to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some criticize, but is it really so hard to understand? Terrorists declared a new kind of war and killed innocent men, women and children in their attack on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001. Our response is to seek out and destroy those responsible; to take the fight against terror to places where terrorists are harbored and supported; and to confront brutal regimes that pose a mounting threat to the free world and their own people.

There is nothing quick or painless about what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But there is this: Saddam Hussein will never again disperse poisonous gas; never again will he torture and murder hundreds of thousands of his own people. Osama bin Laden does not find safe haven in Afghanistan. He hides in the mountains along the border and watches his back.

Meanwhile, 4 million Afghans are registered to vote this September in the first free elections there in 30 years. More than a third of them are women, who previously could not join the public workforce much less the public discourse. In Iraq, Iraqis are in charge of their country, and democracy is now up to the Iraqi people. Freedom in both places was incomprehensible not too long ago. Now free elections are inevitable.

It was Thomas Jefferson who expressed a hope that generations after his would … sympathize with the oppressed wherever found … and, in his words, “prove their love of liberty beyond their own share of it.” Our task in Iraq was not only to defeat an enemy. It was to give strength to a friend. And we have kept our word.

The past several days we have been dealing with the news that a Utah marine is being held captive. We pray for his safe return.

Terrorists have one motive with vile acts like this -- to weaken our resolve. It once again shows that fanaticism knows no bounds and will not stop with concession. Terrorists sow seeds of chaos. They come from different groups but they share a goal to wear out the patience of Americans, our coalition and Iraqis before freedom takes root.

They cannot be allowed to succeed. A return of tyranny to Iraq would be victory for terror. It would embolden them and lead to more bombings, more beheadings and more murders all over the world. America knows the incredible price of freedom. And we, more than any other nation, know the reward.

Sovereignty has been given. There are more difficult days ahead. But we are strong and will move unrelentingly forward toward freedom and independence, security and prosperity for the Iraqi people. As we work to help the Iraqis develop a democratic form of government let us never forget that we received from our founding fathers “a more perfect union” – not perfection itself. Self-governance is always a work in progress. As we pass it on to the Iraqis, we also refine it here at home.

How do democracies endure?

I participated in a discussion with a dozen economists, futurists and a handful of corporate leaders. We were discussing the future. To stimulate discussion we were given a scenario: "Look forward to 2015 and tell us what will be most surprising." Each person commented, usually in economic or geo-political terms.

"Since we're forecasting the future," I said, "I'll tell you how the Nobel Prize in economics will be won in 2015." That got the economists attention. “Actually, I don’t know who it will be,” I said, “but the big surprise is that some day the Nobel Prize for Economics will be won by a sociologist who comes up with a new economic theorem called the Economics of Goodness.

It is a simple but powerful idea. Every nation has economic assets that produce wealth. It may be oil, a seaport, favorable climate. But there is an asset of immense power inherent in any community that will use it -- the inclination of its citizens to do the right thing, voluntarily. There is nothing more economically devastating than a growing population of people that instinctively do wrong. And there is no stronger force over the long run than people doing right.

Just one example: imagine the economic heft of a nation free of drug and alcohol abuse. Health care costs would plummet, worker productivity would skyrocket. Families torn apart by the abuse and financial hardship wrought by substance addiction would remain together. Welfare rolls would fall. Crime costs would shrink, and that society would build fewer prisons.

Imagine the power of a nation able to invest those trillions of dollars into education, investment or research. Such a nation would dominate the world economy.

One of the participants who heard this couldn't contain himself. "You're turning this into a religious discussion," he said. Before I could respond, one of the best known economists in the world came to my defense. "Wait a minute," he said. "I'm an atheist and to me this isn't about religion. It's about human behavior and the predictability of its consequences." It’s the first time I’ve said, “Amen,” to an atheist!

The key to a successful democracy is clear; the willingness of its people to do the right thing. People and hence nations who work hard, are honest with each other and practice kindness and participate in self government prosper. Civilizations built on a foundation of strong families and communities, patriotism and individual responsibility will endure.

The durability of a nation is determined by the aggregate character of its people. The character of America is courage, generosity and opportunity. In the history of mankind, there has never been a nation as willing and as capable of inspiring and fulfilling hope. Hope lives on in soaring documents like the declaration and constitution signed two centuries ago. It also lives on in hastily penned acknowledgments of freedom.

When the transfer of power in Iraq occurred two days ahead of schedule last week, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice sent President Bush a brief note. You probably heard about it: “Mr. President, Iraq is sovereign. Letter was passed from Bremer at 10:26 Iraq time – Condi.” The president scrawled three words of his own: “Let Freedom Reign.” The simplicity of that note was reminiscent of one founding father Benjamin Rush wrote after the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Dated July 9, 1788, the note said simply: “’Tis Done. We have become a nation.”

A nation indeed. An economic powerhouse. A military superpower. A global beacon. And a friend. It all began when our forefathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to the cause of freedom 228 years ago. We, their countrymen, have been doing it ever since.

For that, count me among those expressing awe and gratitude this day – and for every day that it is my privilege, my great fortune and pride to be able to say that I am an American. Thank you, Happy Birthday and God bless you, America.