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National Remarks Prepared for Delivery National

06/14/1999
Carol M. Browner, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery National Remarks Prepared for Delivery NationalAssociation of Local Government Environmental Professionals
                        Washington, D.C.
                         June 14, 1999
                               

     Good afternoon.  I*d like to thank Sanford for that introduction.  It*s a genuine pleasure to be able to join you here today for the release of this report.

     There*s a saying, I*m sure you*ve all heard:  *Give me a lever long enough, and I can move the world.*

     I*d like to offer a variation of that.  *Give us leaders strong enough, and we can change the world.*

     And that*s what we are here to talk about today:  Leadership!  The leadership right in this room that is working -- right now -- to change our world -- to make it better -- community by community.

     This report shows that when business leaders work as partners with the leaders of their communities -- both in and out of government -- we can make progress on an issue that concerns our families around the nation -- preserving our quality of life and making our communities more livable.

     The 19 different case studies outlined in this report create a model for the kind of public- private-government partnerships we need to create nationwide if our children -- and the generations that follow -- are to live in real communities, not mere subdivisions.

     As we stand in the twilight of the 20th Century, I think it*s interesting to look back to its dawn -- to see where we started -- how far we have come -- and where we need to go.

     The environmental movement -- especially accepting our obligation to be good stewards of our land -- began with President Theodore Roosevelt at the turn of the century.  Roosevelt set aside almost 230 million acres of land for federal protection.  It was a national commitment to preserve our most beautiful places and incredible vistas -- those places that continue to fill so many of us with inspiration and awe.

     Now, nationwide, more than 622 million acres are being preserved or managed for ourselves and the generations to come.

     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 are rising to the challenge thanks to the leadership of people like you.

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

     We are also recognizing that the job is not simply 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 riverfront walks, nearby parks and lush greenways.

     What we are talking about here is the word community -- and making that word special again.

     We see this movement catching on all across our nation.  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.

     What these communities were responding to, in part, is 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 polluted 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.

     There*s a health cost here.  It*s no coincidence that asthma rates are also on the rise, and our children are getting hit the worst.  For instance, since 1980, children under five years old suffered a 160-percent increase in asthma rates.  Asthma is now the most prevalent chronic illness for children under 17.     There*s an economic cost to congestion as well.  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?

     And so the message our communities are sending us is simply:  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.

     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 preserve open space and farmland, create parks or clean up brownfields.  You might also decide to improve water quality by purchasing and preserving 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.  We will encourage regional approaches.  We want to see small communities working with large cities, cities working with counties and states, and states working with their neighboring states.

     The new millennium is now just 206 days away.  Our cities, towns and communities -- some with centuries of history already behind them -- need help if they are to be vibrant in the century to come.

     But we must do it together -- business by business -- community by community -- and at all levels of government.

     And out of our shared efforts will come a shared vision -- and a lasting legacy.

     Think of this. Someday -- maybe 100 or 200 years from now -- a family might be strolling through a park or forest preserve that you helped create.

They might marvel at the tall stand of trees and the well placed footpaths that lead to open spaces where families gather on a spring day.  They*ll swim, fish and in the clear streams and clean
lakes.  And when they leave the park, they might look at the dedication marker and say:  *They really knew how to build*em back in the year 2000.  They were really thinking ahead.*

     Your leadership today is going to make that a reality for your communities in tomorrows that are still too far away to imagine.

     With Better America Bonds, we just want to give you one more tool to do the job.

     Thank you.