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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Forum Club of the Palm Beaches West Palm Beach, Florida

10/28/1997
                Carol M. Browner, Administrator
             U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                               
                Remarks Prepared for Delivery
                Forum Club of the Palm Beaches
                   West Palm Beach, Florida
                       October 28, 1997



     It is a special pleasure to have the opportunity to address the Forum Club, which, over the
past two decades, has become one of the nation's premier public affairs organizations.


     I salute you for your efforts to educate and involve the South Florida community -- and
particularly the young people here -- on the most pressing issues of the day.


     I look forward to hearing your concerns and having the chance to answer your questions.
But first, let me offer a few comments -- beginning with a well-deserved congratulations to our
home state heroes, the world champions of baseball, the Florida Marlins.


     The World Series simply doesn't get any more exciting than extra innings in the seventh
and final game.  It was a great victory.


     You know, as I travel across the country, I've been hearing a great deal lately about how
Florida has no baseball history -- as if the Marlins were somehow undeserving of their
championship because it is a newer team.


     You and I know how unfair it is to say that.  Florida, in fact, is steeped in baseball
tradition.  For most of this century, every spring, major league baseball teams have been coming
down here to enjoy the great weather and the fabulous quality of life this area offers -- and to get
ready for the upcoming season.


     It is that quality of life that I want to talk about today.  Because protecting it and
enhancing it -- while, at the same time, providing for our economic progress and security -- has
been a primary goal of our administration.


     In 1993, President Clinton and I went to Washington to forge a new generation of
environmental and public health protection.


     We've built those efforts upon the foundation of a simple philosophy -- that environmental
protection and economic progress do go hand-in-hand -- that you can have strong environmental
protection and still have strong economic growth and prosperity.


     And our experience over the past four years has proved that, indeed, we do not have to
choose between our health and our jobs.  In fact, the two are inextricably linked.


     We have taken strong measures to clean the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the
land on which we live.  At the same time, our economy has grown stronger.  The record speaks
for itself.


     Today, we look ahead to building upon the progress we have achieved.  Because the job is
not done.  We still face a host of serious environmental and public health challenges.


     For example, last week, the President announced his strategy for asserting America's
leadership in the global effort to reduce the "greenhouse gases" -- caused by the inefficient
burning of fossil fuels -- that the vast majority of the world's climate experts have concluded are
causing the gradual warming of the Earth's surface temperatures.


     These scientists -- more than 2,000 of them from all over the world -- are telling us that
global warming will, in the future, likely cause the more frequent and more intense heat waves --
and thousands more heat-related deaths. Severe droughts and floods will become more common.
Tropical diseases like malaria will expand their range.  Agriculture will suffer.  The oceans will
rise, perhaps by several feet over the next century -- swamping many coastal areas -- and I know
that is of particular concern here in Florida.


     This will be our legacy to our children if we do not find some way to reduce greenhouse
gases.


     President Clinton is committed to taking responsible action to confront this threat -- and
to do so through flexible, market-based policies that provide for the nation's continued economic
growth.  And, when the nations of the world meet in Japan this December to seek a global
agreement on this issue, the President is committed to securing realistic and binding agreements
that ensure that all countries -- both industrial and developing -- participate in this process and do
their part to address the challenge of global warming.


     Unfortunately, those who oppose action are on the march.  Some industries are funding a
massive disinformation campaign attempting to portray the fight against global warming as a loser
for America.  They warn of dire consequences -- drastically higher fuel prices, economic
catastrophe.  In the words of one campaign sponsor: "All pain and no gain."


     They are wrong.

     Addressing the challenge of global warming is not about ratcheting down our economy.  It
is about investing in new technologies and using America's technological leadership to develop
new ways to make things, new ways to get where we want to go, to work and to play.


     It's about economic growth.  Those who are first in bringing pollution-reducing
technologies to market are going to be very well-positioned in the global economy of the 21st
Century.  And American industries are leaders in developing these technologies.


     Certainly, as South Florida has become a hub of international trade, you know how
important it is to maintain and enhance global economic leadership.


     But, let's face it, there are always going to be those who will say:

     "It can't be done."

     "It's too expensive."

     "Our economy will suffer."

     But to say those things is to ignore the American experience of environmental and public
health protection.  The history of the past quarter-century has been one of setting tough standards
-- and ultimately surpassing them with flying colors.


     Let me give you just one important example.

     A few days ago, we observed the 25th anniversary of the Clean Water Act -- a law that
has brought enormous benefits to our nation, the health of our fellow citizens and our quality of
life.


     This legislation was passed -- with a large, bipartisan majority in the Congress -- over the
objections of some who said that we simply couldn't afford to stop dumping huge amounts of raw
sewage and industrial waste into the nations rivers, lakes and estuaries.


     But the American people were appalled by the deplorable condition of places like Lake
Erie, Long Island Sound, the Hudson and Potomac Rivers, and many others.


     Many of America's great waters -- so vital to our health, our economy, our quality of life
and our very identity as a nation -- had become places to avoid.


     Some of you may recall that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was so polluted that it
actually caught fire.


     And so Americans raised their collective voices and said "enough."  They demanded
action -- action to protect their health, action to ensure water that is safe to drink, action to
reduce harmful pollution.


     The Clean Water Act was the response to this public outcry.  And it was a major change
of course for this country.   Since this landmark legislation was passed, we have prevented billions
upon billions of pounds of pollution from flowing into our waters.


     Once-dead rivers, lakes and estuaries are now thriving.  We have doubled the number of
those that are safe for fishing and for swimming.


     People are returning to the water -- to swim, to fish, to ply the waters in their boats and to
relax on their shores.  Across the nation, urban waterfront areas are coming back.  And critical
sources of drinking water have been saved.


     And, while we have done all this -- a quarter century of environmental progress -- the
nation's gross national product has doubled.


     The Clean Water Act has fulfilled much of its promise because people from all walks of
life -- community activists, environmentalists, public servants, businesspeople and farmers -- have
reached out to one another and joined together to find innovative ways to meet its goals.


     But, at the same time, we cannot allow the Clean Water Act's great success to divert our
attention from the task at hand.  Here again, the job is not done.  We cannot rest on our laurels.
Serious water pollution problems remain, and the Clean Water Act's tools are not fully able to
deal with them.


     In one sense, we face a different kind of challenge.  When rivers caught fire -- when you
could go down to the river and see and smell the pollutants that were being dumped -- it was
much easier to know what to do.


     Today, however, the problems are very different.  Serious pollution threats are not as
readily apparent to large numbers of Americans -- and that often makes them more difficult to
address.


     For instance, the biggest source of water pollution is not factories but runoff from a
variety of urban and rural sources.  


     In this sense, what you face here in South Florida -- particularly with restoring and
protecting the Everglades -- is something of a microcosm of the wider dilemma.


     Clearly,  the era of ignoring South Florida's natural heritage -- and its vital importance to
sustaining the high quality of life in this area -- is now over.


     Much is at stake.  The continued loss of the Everglades threatens our future drinking
water supplies, Florida's $13 billion tourist industry and the living standard we enjoy.


     If only the solution were as simple as finding a few sources of pollution and shutting them
off.  But it's a lot more complicated than that.


     We must recognize, for instance, that agriculture will continue to be an important part of
the local economy -- and agricultural community will have to be a part of the solution, too.


     We must address the challenges posed by polluted water -- most of it from agricultural
runoff and residential storm water -- that threatens South Florida's fresh water systems.  We have
to "re-engineer" these systems so that everyone who depends on them -- agriculture, residents,
tourists and the ecosystem -- can continue to thrive on them for many years into the future.


     We have had some success in doing this.  The farmers have been coming through.

     Changes in agricultural practices, for instance, have reportedly achieved a 51 percent
reduction in phosphorus discharged from the Everglades Agricultural Area over the past two
years.  That's better than twice the mandated reduction levels.


     And we are having similar success with the wetlands that are being created to treat
stormwater runoff from developed areas.


     But there is a greater challenge, as well.  Communities will have to do a better job of
managing their growth.


     We know that, like it or not, South Florida will continue to grow in population -- by
hundreds of thousands of people over the next decade.  These people will need water to drink and
homes to live in.


     Yet we cannot just continue to expand westward into the Everglades.  We have already
gone too far.
   
    In the 1960s, when I was growing up in Miami,  I lived on 71st Street SW -- right on the
edge of the historical Everglades.  Today, you can go west another 100 blocks.  Relentless
development pressures have contributed greatly to the loss of critical wetlands and the Everglades
overall decline.


     We need to pursue alternatives to continued westward expansion -- such as a greater
focus on building and re-building within developed areas to the east -- as is happening here in
West Palm Beach.  We cannot and should not stop South Florida's growth, but we should keep it
out of the Everglades buffer areas.


     But we still have a long way to go.  The Everglades will never be what they once were.
But we can and we must continue to make major strides toward restoring the critical natural
functions and structures of our region and its natural community -- the wetlands, the water
protection areas, the "River of Grass" and Florida Bay -- all of which are so vital to preserving the
region's quality of life.


     We may have a general consensus on what needs to be done, but the devil is in the details.

     The Everglades' long death march cannot and will not be arrested if deadlines continue to
be pushed further into the future -- if development of environmentally sensitive areas is allowed to
proceed apace and polluted agricultural runoff continues to take its toll.


     We must also find a way to develop a reliable, long-term source of funding for Everglades
restoration -- so that we can be sure that the plans we develop are fully implemented over time.
This is a vitally important issue.


     But I am convinced that our efforts can succeed if we seize the day and reinvigorate the
broad working partnership of public and private sector stakeholders -- federal, state and local
governments, communities, agricultural interests, businesses and citizens -- to protect this critical
natural resource and ensure this area's high quality of life for generations to come.


     I believe that, by working together, the effort to protect and restore the Everglades can be
the shining example of how America can meet the toughest clean water challenges.


     And, if we do it right, we can prove once again that a clean, healthy environment is the
essential underpinning of economic progress.


     Thank you, and now to your questions.