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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

11th Annual Conference of the Everglades Coalition

01/13/1996
    Carol M. Browner



Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 11th Annual Conference of the Everglades Coalition


                        Pembroke Pines, FL




                      Prepared for Delivery
                        January 13, 1996






It is a great pleasure to join you here tonight, and, to say the least, to be among
friends. Back in Washington these days I either find myself all but alone -- because we are
shut down -- or under attack by a hostile Congress. While the temperature down here may be
a little colder than my Florida blood would like, it is certainly warmer in all other respects.


We are here this evening because severe damage is being done to one of this country's
greatest treasures. And among all of us there is no disagreement that that damage must be
stopped and the "river of grass" restored.


But before I talk about what brings us all here, let me take a few minutes to remind you
that all is not well in our nation's capital -- and thus, all is not well for the future of
environmental protection.


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.
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, every part of the natural environment in the state of Florida.


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.


We worked hard to improve the quality of water throughout the Everglades system, to
protect the fish and wildlife, to protect the magic and the beauty, to protect the health and the
economy of South Florida.


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. Superfund cleanups came to a halt. Research to protect the public from
drinking water contamination stopped. Citizens' requests for information went unanswered.


This 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 and giving
special deals to special interests.


Here in Florida, 58 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.


The President's plan will protect our rivers, our beaches, and our drinking water.

And in Florida, we need that protection. More than one third of our rivers, lakes, and
streams are too polluted for fishing and swimming. In 1994, 215 of our Florida beaches were
closed because of contamination. Signs are posted on the banks of Florida's rivers, lakes and
streams -- even throughout the Everglades -- warning that children and other vulnerable groups
should limit the amount of fish they eat from those waters.


Two million Floridians 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 Florida
almost $25 million in funding to protect your drinking water and your beaches. They say that
in order to balance the budget, it is necessary for Florida to lose $9 million in money for
drinking water and $15 million for keeping raw sewage out of rivers and off the beaches.


And under their proposals, we wouldn't be able to protect Florida wetlands. Under
their definition of a wetland, 190,000 acres of the Florida Everglades would no longer be
considered a wetland under federal law.


One of the measures in the Republicans' appropriations bill would deny to EPA -- the
federal agency responsible for water quality in this country -- the authority to make the final
decision about the destruction of the remaining wetlands in this country. That is the very
authority EPA used to stop rock plowing in the Everglades and the construction of a landfill
over the Biscayne aquifer.


How can we be expected to guarantee water quality if we are denied the ability to
ensure that "nature's kidneys" -- our wetlands -- are protected? It is as if we are being asked
to do our job with our hands tied behind our back.


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 do our job on behalf 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.


And now for what brings us all here -- my background, my passion -- the Everglades.
I believe you are familiar with the memo from Vice President Gore that I and other
members of the Administration received yesterday. This memo reflects this Administration's
continued commitment to the restoration and wise management of the entire South Florida
ecosystem.


You should be assured that at the highest levels of this Administration, there is a
fundamental recognition that the Everglades system is in deep trouble -- and that we must act
to reverse the devastation that has been visited upon the Everglades over the years. The
Federal government must act. The State, the Water Management District, tribes and local
governments must act before it is too late. The efforts that are now ongoing -- the work of the
Army Corps of Engineers and the work of land acquisition agencies -- must go forward and
must be expedited.


As agricultural land comes out of production, we must ensure that it can be put to uses
that make sense for our economy and that make sense for our environment. We must use
public acquisition, conservation easements, and rational land trades. Substantial land -- at least
100,000 acres -- must be returned to its natural functions, so that once again we can store and
purify the water that is so crucial to the Everglades and all of South Florida.


Long-term, reliable funding sources must be identified to accomplish these goals. The
Vice President, in his memo, reaffirms this Administration's fundamental belief that a fair
share of the costs of restoring the Everglades must be borne by those responsible for the
pollution.


These goals must not be pursued without several other measures, including an east
Everglades buffer before urbanization overwhelms the area, and providing fresh water to
Florida Bay before it faces ecological collapse.


Through the Vice President's leadership, all of the federal family will work together,
each bringing to this effort their unique experiences and authorities -- from the Department of
Interior, stewards of the Everglades National Park; to the Army Corps of Engineers, who best
know how to reassemble the system -- to put the pieces of the puzzle back together; to the
Office of Management and Budget, very importantly in control of the money; to my own
agency, EPA, with responsibility for the quality of the country's water resources, including its
wetlands. We will seek to work with and build upon the efforts of so many here in Florida,
including the Governor's Commission for Sustainable South Florida.


Together, we will expeditiously prepare a plan to get the job done, guaranteeing an
unprecedented level of attention, commitment, and coordination across the federal government
-- to assure the future of these precious natural treasures, the Florida Everglades and Florida
Bay, and the health and economic prosperity of the citizens of South Florida.


This is our commitment -- to protect and restore the Everglades -- and across this
country, to balance the budget while continuing to protect public health and our environment.


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


I want to commend the Everglades Coalition for your leadership and for your
perseverance. You have made the debate over the future of the Everglades into a national
debate, and that is rightly where it belongs.


As the population of South Florida expands, the challenge will only become greater.
We will see more drinking water demands, more waste, more demands for highways and
electric power.


I would ask all of us who care so passionately about the Everglades and about South
Florida 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.