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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Delivery Garden Club of America Washington, D.C.

02/23/1999
Carol M. Browner, Administrator Environmental Protection Agency Remarks Prepared for Delivery Garden Club of America
Washington, D.C.
                       February 23, 1999
                               
     I'd like to thank Jane for that introduction.

     I always enjoy talking to the Garden Club of America. We not only share many of the same issues -- we share a common passion. Gardening. People ask me why I love my garden so much. I'm sure many of you get the same question. It's hard to put into words, but for me, an hour spent in the garden is an hour added to my life, not taken away.

     But I also admire the way the members have taken their love of nature and made the club a calm and reasoned voice that speaks out on behalf of the environment at both the national and the local levels. I was surprised to learn your commitment goes all the way back to 1919 -- just six years after the club was formed -- when members came to Washington to fight against the proliferation of billboards.

     You were on the forefront of an important issue then. And I know you continue the tradition today on issues ranging from the Clean Water Act, to making golf courses more environmentally friendly, to inventorying and preserving local plant species, and even teaching homeowners how to maintain a chemical free lawn.

     I thank you for all the work you've done. And all the work I know you are going to do.

     You've asked me to come here today and outline what I think are the most pressing environmental issues ahead of us. I'm happy to do this.

     Let me begin by quickly sharing with you a short story I read some time ago because I think it helps make a point.

     The story is called The City. It opens with a land surveyor looking at a clearing freshly made in a forest. "Now we're making progress," the surveyor said.

     A town was soon built in the clearing. Over time, the town grew and became a city. And for a time the city thrived. But then it fell into decline. Eventually, the city was abandoned and fell into ruin. And slowly the forest started creeping back upon the city. And a woodpecker, sitting in
one of the trees, looked around said: "Now we're making progress."

     Well, I laughed when I first read that. I liked the irony. But I think it illustrates a problem in the way many people think about the relationship between growing communities and a healthy environment -- the idea that progress for one must come at the expense of the other.

     The opposite is true. Under this administration, economic growth and environmental health have gone hand in hand.

     Under President Clinton and Vice President Gore, 18 million new jobs have been created and unemployment is at its lowest level in 30 years. The budget is in surplus, which means we have the opportunity to save Social Security and Medicare for our children and grandchildren.
     But this growth did not come at the expense of the environment.

     The President and Vice President have also enacted the toughest air quality standards in a generation -- standards that will prevent up to 15,000 premature deaths a year and improve the lives of millions of Americans who suffer from respiratory illnesses.

         To ensure that our families have healthy, clean tap water, the President proposed and signed into law legislation strengthening the Safe Drinking Water Act. And America's 55,000 water utilities will soon be providing regular reports to their customers on the quality of their drinking water. I understand the Garden Club is coming out with a booklet to help consumers even better understand these reports and I'd like to commend you for that.

     Our brownfields program is cleaning up and revitalizing abandoned industrial properties in 227 communities around the country. This program has leveraged $1 billion in public and private funds, created thousands of new jobs and turned idle land back to productive and profitable use. And this urban redevelopment has spared green spaces in nearby suburbs from development.

     We've also cleaned up nearly 585 Superfund toxic waste sites in the past six years. That's three times more Superfund clean ups than the previous administrations did in 12 years. And our goal is to clean up another 85 sites by the end of  2000.

     A booming economy and a thriving environment. Yes, now we're making progress.

     But there's more to do.

     If our cities and towns are to thrive -- not just survive -- in the 21st Century, we need to make them more livable.
     Going back to that short story for a second, remember the neglected city falls into ruins. Well, too many of our cities and towns were neglected. These communities are among our great national strengths. And for the past six years this Administration has worked with states and communities to ensure they remain centers of commerce, community and culture.

     In their place we've watched sprawl snatch up our meadows, forests and farms -- our green spaces. According to the American Farmland Trust, in one 10-year span our nation lost 4.3 million acres of prime and unique farmland. That's a loss of nearly 50 acres every hour of every day.

     These new communities were built farther and farther away from the traditional urban centers. And often these new communities were poorly planned. For instance, I'm from Dade County, Florida. They actually have a wonderful transit system there. But a lot of the neighborhoods it serves have no sidewalks. I know I wouldn't want to have to hike through the
dirt and the mud to use mass transit. It's a true example of: "You can't get there from here."

     These and other kinds of urban planning mistakes have been replicated throughout the country.

     Not surprisingly, we now find ourselves a society snarled in gridlock. I saw a picture in the paper the other day that made me laugh. A little kid was strapped into a nice plush seat in a van with a drink at his side and a television set in front of him. Now, as a mother I've got to admit that is kind of a tempting plan. But, still, think about that image for a minute. Driving has become such a consuming and tedious experience that we are actually moving our living rooms into our
vehicles! Can the day be far off when we'll actually hold dinner parties in them? I can see it now: Meet me at the traffic jam at six o'clock. I'm serving lasagne. Bring the dessert.

     Okay, it's not quite that bad. But it's bad. A recent study said that drivers in certain urban areas waste the equivalent of one to two work weeks just sitting in traffic. In Washington, DC, drivers lose 82 hours a year sitting idle.

     For me, that's the equivalent of more than two work weeks a year I do not get to spend with my son Zachary because I'm stuck in my car. Sometimes when I'm stuck like that, I'll look around at the other drivers and I see the same look in their eyes. They want to be home with their loved ones, not stranded with strangers in traffic.

     But think of the economic costs of this 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 or renovate with that money? How many college educations could we pay for?

     This situation is bad for business. It's bad for the environment. And it's bad for our families -- both their health and quality of life. It's time for action. It's time for progress. The President and Vice President understand the problem and have proposed a plan that will take 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 a new tool to revitalize life within our cities, towns and communities. This new tool is called Better America Bonds, a program in which EPA will take the lead in consultation with other administration departments and agencies.

     The President and Vice President's Better America Bonds proposal is modeled after EPA's program to help local communities clean up and redevelop brownfields. That program allows communities across the country to set their own priorities, make their own decisions, improve their own quality of life and decide for themselves their best path toward economic revitalization.

     The Better America Bonds program will work the same way. It will provide tax credits to states and communities so they can leverage, over five years, almost $10 billion worth of bonds to build more livable communities. That's billions of new dollars for preserving open space, protecting water quality, and ultimately aiding in the revitalization of community centers. And all
at a great deal: a tax credit equal to the interest payment -- which means cities and states pay no interest, ever -- and 15 years to pay back the bond at the original price.

     We'll be encouraging regional approaches -- cities working with counties working with states to preserve wetlands, create forest buffers to protect water supplies, clean up brownfields, create parks -- or all those things together.

     But Better America Bonds are just one part of the Administration's "livability" agenda.

     There is also a large transportation component -- $6.1 billion -- to reduce congestion, encourage transit, improve air quality, and grants to localities for "smart growth" planning.

     The President has also proposed his Lands Legacy Initiative, which will invest $1 billion in the purchase and protection of precious lands and coastal waters. Among the President's priorities, he intends to secure an additional 450,000 acres of private land in and around the new Mojave and Joshua Tree National Parks, and expand forest refuges in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York.

     In my home state of Florida, the President has proposed to continue the restoration of the Everglades, along with extending marine sanctuaries and restoring our coastal reefs.
     This is what our livability agenda is about. Helping our communities create a better quality of life for our working families, a better environment for business, all the while protecting our health and preserving our natural wonders.

     Let me tell you what this livability agenda is not.

     It is not a radical "big government" plan. Last November, voters across the country -- Democrats and Republicans -- adopted more than 150 "green" state and local ballot initiatives. We are simply following their lead and taking their innovative thinking nationwide.

     Also, we are not creating planning police. We will not micromanage local decisions. And, under the Better America Bonds program, the federal government will not add a single square-inch of  land to its inventory. All purchases will be made by state and local governments.

     The new millennium is now just 311 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.

     And I believe that under the President's livability agenda, we'll begin a new millennium where you don't burn a gallon of gas to buy a gallon of milk; where a stroll to a nearby park is again a common family outing, and where we spend more time sitting around the kitchen table than strapped into bucket seats.

     And when we've done this, I think all of us will be able to look around and say: "Now we're making progress."

     Thank you.