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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

New England Council Washington, D.C.

02/24/1999
Carol M. Browner, Administrator Environmental Protection Agency Remarks Prepared for Delivery New England Council Washington, DC

                       February 24, 1999
                               

     Thank you Paul and Jim for inviting me here today and thank you for that introduction.

     It's a pleasure to be able to speak to the Energy Committee of the New England Council. I want to take a moment to thank you for your support of our rule addressing the problem of one region's pollution drifting through the air and causing another region to be out of compliance with the Clean Air Act.

     I know that's been a problem for all of you in New England.

     I know you represent some of the largest producers and consumers of power in New England and have an obvious interest in this Administration's new energy proposals. I'm happy to come here and talk about them.

     But I've found that sometimes before we talk about where we're going, it's interesting to consider where we've been. As we began this century, the electric industry was still in its infancy.

     I was fascinated to learn that in 1909 -- just 90 years ago -- Boston Edison -- a company represented here today -- held its first electric show to demonstrate to people the value and convenience of electricity. It was held in the old Mechanics Hall, where the Prudential Center now stands.

     Can you imagine having to try to prove to people that electricity is worthwhile? But at the time, a mere 15,000 homes were wired for power -- and Boston was considered one of the best lighted cities in America at the time. Now Boston Edison has, what, 650,000 customers I believe, right?

     Obviously a lot has changed since 1909. Thanks to both public and private investments, basically all of America is wired. I think it's safe to say that together we made the 20th Century an "electrifying century" that brought progress to industry and commerce, and raised the quality of life at all levels of society.

     Now we're looking at a new millennium that is just 310 days away. And progress is still a key word.

     We speak a lot about building a bridge to the 21st Century. But everyone in this room knows that bridge won't mean much unless there is a power line strung right along side it.

     President Clinton and Vice President Gore have proposed an ambitious electricity deregulation plan for the new millennium. The bill is designed to put a federal framework in place to unleash fair competition in electricity markets. It will be good for business, good for consumers and good for the environment. It will also protect the legitimate interests of the electric utilities and their investors.

     That's four for four, so we're batting 1,000 on this issue.

     If enacted, this legislation promises that by the year 2003, all consumers should be able to choose their electric company. However, states could opt out if they felt it was in the best interest of their citizens.

     We estimate competition could save consumers $20 billion a year. For a family of four, that breaks down to $104 per year in lower electric costs and another $128 per year in lower costs for goods and services. That's good for the economy all around.

     But we also estimate that this plan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up  40 million tons in 2010. To put that number in perspective.

     Both EPA and the Administration want to see that consumers are informed about where their electricity is coming from, what pollution is caused by that source, and what other power options are available.

      We believe that many Americans, once informed, will choose to get their electricity from clean, renewable sources -- like wind or solar power. Our goal is that by 2010, five and a half percent of the nation's power will be generated by these clean sources. That's double what it is today.

     I believe the Administration's deregulation plan is good for both our natural environment and the business environment. And together that means not just healthier families in the 21st Century, but prosperous ones as well.

     Now there is another topic I wanted to touch on this morning. And let me get into it by, again, noting something interesting about the New England Council.

     I understand that your group recently formed a Culture Committee, which met for the first time last Friday. And I was fascinated to learn that this committee is looking at cultural institutions within your communities not just as a way to attract tourists, but as a resource that improves the quality of life for all the people who live in New England.

     A community with a rich cultural life is more appealing -- more livable -- and that makes it easier to retain and recruit talented employees.

     Improving the livability of our communities is also important to the President and the Vice President. For the past six years, this Administration has worked with local officials to ensure that our cities and towns remain centers of commerce, community and culture.

     But we need to do more. Too often, 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.

     In New England, about 1,200 acres of open space a week have disappeared -- including two acres an hour in Massachusetts.

     Nationwide, these new communities were built farther and farther away from the traditional urban centers and often 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.

     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!

     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 -- the most congested metropolitan area in the nation -- drivers lose 82 hours a year sitting idle in traffic jams.

     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 having dinner 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 the Community Empowerment Board and other administration departments and agencies.

     Simply put, Better American Bonds are the shortest law you could write to do the greatest amount of good. We're saying in the tax code that a community approved to issue Better America Bonds won't have to pay any interest on the bond and has 15 years before paying back the principal. The federal government will, in effect, pick up the tab by allowing lenders to subtract from their federal income tax bill the amount of the interest they would have earned on the bond.

     Could it be any easier?

     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. It's very flexible.

     In fact, of all the local officials who have come to me asking -- "Could we do this with the bond? Could we do that with the bond? -- I've only had to say "no" to one mayor. He wanted to build a pool.

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

     There is also a new large transportation component -- $1.6 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 are the expansion of forest refuges in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York.

     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.

     And let me stress, this 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.

     We will not be 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.

     We know that all of our communities have different histories and will chart different futures. We're just offering them tools to help them along the path. We're not issuing orders on what path to follow.

     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. 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.

     Thank you.