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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Audubon Society Mill Grove Wildlife Sanctuary Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

06/05/1998
Carol M. Browner, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Audubon Society
Mill Grove Wildlife Sanctuary
Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

                          June 5, 1998
                               

     Thank you John for that warm introduction. I've had the pleasure of knowing John almost 10 years now, and I have to say, he is truly one of this country's greatest environmental leaders. He brings a real commitment and vision to everything he does.

     It is indeed a pleasure to be here with all of you this evening. Let me begin by thanking you for what you do, and what you have done for a very long time. Here tonight, at Mill Grove, you can literally feel the Audubon Society's rich contribution to American history.

     A lot has happened in those almost 200 years since Audubon first came to this beautiful
place: westward expansion, the industrial revolution, wars, depressions, and economic booms. A lot has changed across this country and the world, as well as in the Audubon Society. You know that to truly appreciate a bird, we must do more than observe it through binoculars. That we must protect it. And that protecting it means protecting its habitat -- saving our land, air, and water.

     I suspect that bird lovers know more than almost anyone just how interconnected life is on this planet.

     For the past 25 plus years, the Audubon Society and others have been working diligently to help pass and strengthen our major environmental and public health laws. And, by any measure, we have made a great deal of progress.

     Our rivers are cleaner, our air healthier, our land freer from toxic chemicals.

     But the job is not done. Ahead lie even more difficult challenges.

     When rivers caught fire -- when brown clouds enveloped cities and people became ill from buried toxic waste -- it was much easier to know what to do.  Americans demanded action because they could see and experience what was happening to their health and environment.

     Today, the problems are very different. Threats to our health and environment are not as readily apparent.  Sources of pollution are more difficult to identify.

     I'm talking about air and water pollution that respects no political boundaries. I'm talking about global warming. I'm talking about polluted runoff from parking lots, construction sites, cropland, and other urban and rural areas.     Five and a half years ago, when I came to EPA, we called for a new generation of environmental protection -- one that would build on the successes of the past, and meet the challenges of the future.

     We knew that progress meant building upon what has long made this country great -- our creativity, innovation, ingenuity. It meant rewarding those willing to do more than just an adequate job -- to go further, to push the envelope, and to create new technologies and new ways to prevent pollution.  And it meant partnerships -- between environmentalists, industries, governments, and communities -- partnerships that get the job done.

     Together, we have made great strides.

     Under the leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, we have taken the toughest action in a generation to improve air quality with our new standards for soot and smog. These measures, taken together, will prevent thousands of premature deaths each year. They will improve health protections for people of all ages.

     We've taken aggressive action to keep contamination out of our drinking water.

     We cleaned up more toxic dumpsites in the past five years than in the first 12 years of the Superfund program. Now thousands of children can play in a neighborhood free of toxics -- something each and every child should have the right to do.

     We have expanded the public's right to know about toxic chemicals in their communities.  We have nearly doubled the number of chemicals that industry must report to the public. And we have required more facilities to report releases.

     And across this country -- watershed by watershed -- communities are coming together to meet the challenge of clean water -- industry, government, citizens joining together to find the solutions that make sense for their watershed, their community.

     In the San Francisco Bay Delta, we ended 30 years of water wars, not by continued confrontation but by building consensus.  Farmers, families, and fishermen -- all have a right to water.  People joined together to protect and manage their watershed, the habitat, and their future.

    In the Everglades, Vice President Gore announced a restoration plan that will bring new hope to the ailing River of Grass. We are working to replumb a half century of misguided waterworks, to balance future development with the preservation of natural areas, to meet the needs of farmers and urban areas as well as the needs of the natural system. Thank you Audubon Society for your help in protecting this wetlands treasure. And thanks particularly to John Flicker, Eric Draper, and Stuart Strahl for constantly reminding us how best to save the Everglades. Together, we can save the heart of the Everglades. Together, we can see the heart once again pulse with water.

     On the Chesapeake Bay, a broad-based partnership of business, agriculture, environmentalists, all levels of government is leading the way toward the restoration of this
national treasure. Today, we have results: fewer toxics released into the Bay, nutrient pollution declining, fish and crab on the rebound. We have a bay-wide goal to restore more than 2,000 miles of stream side forest buffers by 2010.

     Yes, we are making progress. But you and I know that our work is far from done. This is not a time to rest.

     Today, forty percent of rivers, lakes, and streams surveyed by the states are still not suitable for fishing or swimming.  Forty percent of the coastal waters and estuaries surveyed do not meet water quality standards. Over the last decade, almost 19,000 closings and health advisories have been issued for the nation's beaches.

     No parent should have to tell their child that the fish are too contaminated to eat, that the water is just too dirty to take a swim.

     While much has been done to reduce discharges from point sources, sewer plants, and industrial pipes -- our job is not done. Contaminated, polluted urban and agricultural runoff continues to cause serious problems for our nation's waters.

     Scientists by and large have linked excess phosphorus and nitrogen to last summer's outbreak of pfiesteria. This is a toxic micro-organism that killed fish in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina and may have poisoned fishermen. Too much of these nutrients has lowered oxygen levels in waters throughout the country and created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of Connecticut.

     In February, President Clinton announced the Clean Water Action Plan -- our national blueprint to clean up and restore the nation's waters -- our rivers, lakes, streams, underground aquifers, and estuaries.

     This is 110 actions to address our remaining water quality problems: polluted runoff, the loss of wetlands, the restoration of our waterways.     The Clean Water Action Plan gives Americans the tools, flexibility, and resources they need to clean up their waters community by community, watershed by watershed, estuary by estuary.

     The idea is to support locally-based initiatives, like the one in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Landowners, federal agencies, and environmentalists have worked together to stop erosion in the Pike Run Watershed. Today, they have 11 acres fenced off in the watershed, 1,000 acres of warm season grasses planted, 50 wetland acres restored. And fourteen other Pennsylvania counties are now following suit.

     The Clean Water Action Plan commits tools, technical expertise, and money -- $2.3 billion over five years -- to bring people together to find common-sense, cost-effective solutions.

     Already we are taking steps: a strategy to control animal waste runoff from feedlots; increased efforts to prevent harmful algal blooms and pfiesteria outbreaks; better, more accessible information on beach closings and fish advisories; and a strategy to bring back our wetlands.

     In the mid-1970s, we were losing wetlands at the rate of about 400,000 acres every year. Today, we lose less than 100,000 acres annually. The Clean Water Action Plan will go further, it will provide a net gain of 100,000 acres of wetlands every year by 2005.

     The Clean Water Act promised this nation cleaner, healthier, safer water-- and with it cleaner, healthier, safer wildlife habitat. With the President's Clean Water Action Plan we can keep this promise to the American people -- and all the American generations to come.

     Unfortunately, the naysayers are on the march -- again. Some are suggesting our problems are not real, not deserving of federal dollars. A budget resolution has passed in the Senate that would deny EPA increased funding for the Clean Water Action Plan, for watershed and wetland restoration.

     We believe that this budget resolution sends the wrong message to the American people. It tells them that their government is willing to put their health and environment in jeopardy. It tells them that we can put off indefinitely clean water, healthy air, and safe land for the American people.

     What's more, some in Congress are using the back door to roll back environmental and public health protections.

     We again see bills that -- under the guise of reform -- take away our ability to penalize companies that violate the nation's environmental and public health laws.

    In the name of property rights, we see bills that will undermine our public health and environmental laws. We are seeing clandestine riders to roll back our clean air standards and other protections. And we are seeing proposals -- again under the guise of reform -- that would give polluters new rights to sue, and put cost considerations before public health and environmental protections.

     All this adds up to less protection and less accountability and special deals for special interest at the expense of the American people.

     We will continue to opposed those who would weaken our environmental laws. We are on the right path. In five years, we have made truly exceptional progress in providing greater protections for the American people, and in making the system work better for everyone. But the job is not done. We must remain vigilant.

     As the head of this country's environmental agency, my responsibility spans the landscape from the Atlantic to the Pacific. But I, like all of us, has that special place that serves to remind us what is at stake if we don't prevail. For me, it is the Everglades on a glorious late December afternoon -- the white mountains of clouds suspended above the gently drifting river of grass. And a wood stork just taken flight. All that is fragile depends on those who endure. Thank you for your legacy. And thank you for your endurance.

     I thank you for all that you do.