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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

National Association of Women Judges- Miami, Florida

10/14/1999
National Association of Women Judges
                         Miami, Florida
                        October 14, 1999
                               

     Good afternoon. I'd like to thank Judge Schroeder for that introduction. And I would like to tell you all how happy I am to be here because we share common goals.
     Your organization works to bring women into the justice system. And this Administration has worked to create a system that delivers justice to women. Justice on the job. Justice in the home. And justice in our environmental laws.
     I'd like to begin by making a point that is too often forgotten -- a point we need to stress not just to our daughters, but to our sons.
     There has never been a time in American history when women did not rise to leadership positions. Never! From the battlefields of the American Revolution to the frontiers of outer space, American women have always been leaders in the sciences, the arts and politics.
     In fact, the modern environmental movement owes much of its existence to two visionary women. Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring warned us of the dangers of pesticide abuse. And Marjorie Stoneman Douglas led a crusade to save the Everglades -- a crusade that finally bore fruit this summer with the Administration's putting forth a $7.8 billion program to restore that
great natural wonder we in Florida call: "The River of Grass."            
     I know many of you here today come from courtrooms around the nation, so you might wonder why the Everglades means so much to me. I was born here in Miami. When I was growing up, the edge of the Everglades was just a short bike ride from my front yard. Now it's another 150 blocks away   pushed back by development.
     Historically the feeling has always been: "The Everglades? It's a swamp. Let's drain it.
But that's like looking at the Grand Canyon and saying: "It's a hole. Let's fill it."
     I would encourage any of you who are first-time visitors to South Florida to take a trip out to the Everglades and see for yourselves what a spectacular resource it is.
     Watch the high storm clouds come rolling in over that vast expanse and you will see a vista spread before you as awesome as any mountain range.  Feel the first cool breeze just as the sun sets over that floating prairie and you will feel a kind of peace and quiet like nowhere else.
     And again, it was a woman who led the fight to change the way we treated the Everglades -- as has been true with so many events crucial events in our nation's history.
     Were our numbers small? Yes.
     Did these women have to fight harder for their recognition? Of course.
     Has the work of women sometimes been obscured or forgotten in the history books? Most definitely.
     But those women helped lay a foundation for justice and freedom that everyone in this room today still labors to build brick by brick.
     I make this point because I believe the coming century poses great challenges. Challenges in the law. Challenges in the environment. Challenges in science and technology. And we must be ready to meet them.
     That's why I am proud to be serving a President and Vice-President who knew from the beginning that women had to be, deserved to be, could be in charge of some of the most important departments and agencies in the United States government.
     Attorney General Janet Reno and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are the first women to ever hold their positions. Besides those two, also serving in the cabinet are Alexis Herman as Secretary of Labor, Donna Shalala as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Janet Yellen as chair of the Council of Economic Advisors and Charlene Barshefsky as the U.S. Trade Representative.
     Thirty percent of the President's judicial nominees have been women and he also appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court   just the second woman to sit on the high court.
     In fact, overall 40 percent of this President's appointees are women --the most of any President.
     I don't doubt that this is the first time in the history of our government that an idea -- a proposal -- could literally move from conception to completion under the guidance of women only.
     And, of course, I have been given the opportunity to work with my 18,000-plus colleagues at EPA on our agency's daily mission to guarantee clear skies, pure water and healthy food for all of our families.
     But I have to tell you that when I first came to EPA, I found yet another area where women were not recognized. Nor were children. Nor were the elderly or people with chronic illnesses. And that zone of indifference was in the scientific studies EPA used to determine health standards.
     When I first arrived at EPA I learned -- much to my surprise -- that all too often this country's environmental health standards were based on the effects different chemicals -- drifting in the air or floating on the waters -- had on the average, healthy man.
     How much residual pesticide can be safely tolerated on fruits like apples and pears? When is our tap water really safe for the entire family to drink? At what level do fine particles of soot or floating clouds of ozone smog become health hazards? Well . . . it all depended on how much a healthy male could stand.
     And if you asked: "Do these standards adequately protect the average woman? The average child? A child with asthma? A pregnant woman? An elderly person?" -- the answer was
simply: "We don't know."
     Well, this Administration said that was not good enough. And so we changed the way we do business. Today when we set safety standards -- for drinking water, for air, for pesticides -- we use a very different measure. Today, we require that those standards must be adequate to protect not just healthy men, but all people -- women, children, the elderly and groups with special sensitivities.
     That is a very significant change and a tremendous victory for public health overall. When we protect our most vulnerable in our society, we create greater safety for all.
     EPA has set the toughest standards ever for reducing toxic emissions from chemical plants and for the burning of municipal, medical and hazardous waste. We have reduced by nearly 90 percent the emission of pollutants that can cause birth defects, cancer, developmental problems in children and that can accumulate in human tissue and in breast milk.
     The Food Quality Protection Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, also strengthened the regulation of residual pesticides on foods by ensuring that standards protect children.
     If you think about it, this was a common sense thing to do. I see it every day. My son Zach is growing is a growing boy. So he eats more apples and pears and other fruits and vegetables than my husband. He's just naturally going to be exposed to these hazards more often. On top of that, my son's internal systems are still developing and are therefore more fragile and susceptible to environmental hazards than my husband   a healthy adult male.
     So back in August -- after extensive scientific review as required by the Food Quality Protection Act -- we announced the elimination or reduction of two widely used pesticides   methyl parathion and azinphos methyl -- because of the danger they posed as a residue on the fruits and vegetables commonly eaten by children.
     These two pesticides are part of a class called organophosphates that work by attacking the nervous system of insects. But they can have the same effect on people   especially children whose systems are still developing.
     When a family gathers around the kitchen table, they should know that the food they eat is as safe as it can be for every member of the family   from the youngest to the oldest.
     All pesticides are now undergoing the most extensive scientific review ever to ensure they meet the new, tougher standard and to better understand their effects on people -- especially women and children.
     As you may know, there is growing concern that many of these chemicals in pesticides can be mistaken for estrogen by the endocrine glands -- like the thyroid, adrenal or ovaries -- and that can affect cell growth, development and other processes.
     And the effects of this process -- called endocrine disruption -- can have consequences for generations to come by causing birth defects and other congenital problems.
     We have seen the effects in animals. Birds have produced thin, fragile eggshells, leading to reproductive failures. Fish spawned in polluted waters grow abnormally. Some species -- like alligators - have even shown evidence of feminized males.
     Since 1995, EPA -- along with several other federal agencies and university researchers -- have been studying endocrine disruption and its effects on humans -- but especially women and children.
     We are finally recognizing that the women's bodies have unique susceptibilities. We know that about one in eight women in America will develop breast cancer in her lifetime and that rate is on the rise. Five million American women suffer from endometriosis that can cause infertility.
     Studies based on adult males won't help us identify and eliminate the environmental causes of these diseases.
     And we're recognizing that children are not just little adults. As they grow, their metabolisms are running at a much higher rate than the average adult male, which makes them more susceptible to pollution in the environment. Since 1980, children under five years old suffered a 160 percent increase in asthma affliction. Asthma is now the most prevalent chronic disorder for children under 17.
     Setting air pollution standards based on adult males leaves children at risk.
     At EPA we're committed to using the most advanced science available now to ensure a healthy environment for all.
     You know, as we peek into the new millennium -- now just 78 days away   we can see some exciting things just over the horizon. New farming and pesticide techniques that will be far less toxic.
     Our homes, automobiles and even office buildings may be powered things called fuel cells that generate electricity by combining oxygen and hydrogen. And the byproduct? Water! Imagine driving to work and all that comes out of your tailpipe is a clean trail of water vapor.
     But we're not there yet. And that's why this Administration took on these tough environmental challenges now.
     By acting now in the twilight of our age to protect the health of women, of children, of the elderly   to guarantee environmental justice for all   we guarantee a healthy future for generations to come far into the new century.
     Thank you.