Speeches By EPA Administrator
Timothy E. Wirth Chair in Environmental and Community Development University of Colorado at Denver05/16/1996
|Carol M. Browner|
Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Timothy E. Wirth Chair in Environmental and Community
Development University of Colorado at Denver
Prepared for Delivery
May 16, 1996
I want to thank Marshall Kaplan and Tim Wirth for inviting me to address you today. It is a pleasure to be able to meet with
students and faculty from the University of Colorado at Denver, and with members of the community.
It is a special pleasure to honor Tim Wirth. Twenty-six years ago, the people of this country -- Democrats, Republicans, and
independents -- joined together to say: "We must stop the pollution. We must save our natural heritage."
Together, through this bipartisan commitment, we made tremendous progress. We no longer have rivers catching on fire. Our
skies are cleaner.
All of us can be proud of that progress -- and Tim Wirth can be especially proud. Throughout the past generation of
environmental progress, Tim Wirth has been a bright, courageous leader. A leader for the people of Colorado, fighting to
protect your health, your air, your water, and your land. And he has been a leader for the nation as a whole. Perhaps no
place in this country has a greater environmental awareness than here in Colorado. Tim Wirth helped to foster that awareness
on a national level, taking on the special interests and pushing to enact vital public health and environmental protections that all
Americans enjoy today.
Today, at the State Department, Tim Wirth's intelligence and his commitment operate on an international scale. As colleagues
in the Clinton Administration, Tim and I get together for breakfast with the Vice President on a weekly basis, to discuss the
environmental issues facing this country and facing people throughout the world -- from safe drinking water to global warming
-- from hazardous waste to phasing out lead in gasoline. Over the past three years, it has been a great pleasure for me to
work with Tim, and it is my hope that he will continue to serve the public for many years to come.
Three years ago, when President Clinton and I came to Washington, we were determined to continue that progress. We
called on leaders of business, communities, and all levels of government to help us build a new generation of environmental
protection -- one that can build on the successes of the past and meet the challenges of the next century.
In that new generation of environmental protection, protecting our environment means protecting public health. It means
providing real benefits for real people -- fresh air to breathe, safe water to drink, land that is safe to live on.
And, the new generation of environmental protection means reinventing the system, so that we can provide better protection
than ever before, in the most cost-effective manner.
In creating a new system that will be equal to the problems of today, the challenges of tomorrow, we have been guided by
The first principle is that we must bring to this challenge that which has long made this country great -- our creativity,
innovation, ingenuity. The system must do more than just seek the minimum -- it must demand the best. It must reward those
willing to do more than just an adequate job, to go further, to push the envelope, to provide the strongest possible
protections, to prevent pollution.
Second, we must trust democracy. All of those who must live with the consequences of environmental decisions -- the
communities, the industries, the people -- must be active participants in making those decisions. They must be informed. They
must be involved. We must move beyond the increasingly adversarial system -- environmentalists versus business, business
versus environmentalists -- each side suggesting that only its own position can prevail or all will be lost -- with the judicial
system left to split the difference and the public's air and water inadequately protected.
Earlier today, I met with community residents about ten minutes from here -- people in the Globeville neighborhood. Over a
period of many years, an industrial plant in the area has caused the land to become contaminated with lead and other toxic
materials. The neighborhood is concerned about the places their children play, the land where they grow vegetables, the air
they breathe, the effects on their health. EPA and the State of Colorado is working with the community to ensure that the
problems are solved, and that as the cleanup goes forward, the community is fully informed and fully involved.
The third principle that guides us is that our commitment as a nation cannot waver, because the job of public health and
environmental protection is not done -- and quite frankly, in a modern industrial society, will never be done. The responsibility
will always be ours -- all of us, but most importantly, government -- to protect our citizens, the air, the water, the land, the
health of this and future generations.
And thus, with the leadership of President Clinton, this Administration has acted. We initiated a series of common-sense,
high-priority actions to change our system of environmental regulation. To move beyond mere regulation to true protection.
To guarantee the strongest possible protections.
Today, that new generation of environmental protection is at work in communities across this country.
Thanks to tough enforcement of the Clean Air Act, 50 million Americans in 55 cities are breathing cleaner air. In Denver,
strong programs to reduce automobile pollution are working effectively to bring down pollution levels.
Under the President's leadership, in this Administration we can point to the biggest drop in toxic air pollution in U.S. history.
We set the first ever toxic water quality standards for all of the Great Lakes -- lakes that provide drinking water for 23
Under the President's leadership, this Administration has cleaned up more toxic waste sites than in the previous 12 years of
We accelerated the cleanup of urban properties that have long lain contaminated or abandoned -- returning them to
productive use, creating jobs, creating hope.
At the same time, we made changes in the process of environmental protection -- the system by which we protect the public.
We expanded the public's right to know about toxic chemicals released in their neighborhoods, Zip Code by Zip Code.
Now, emissions of 648 different toxic chemicals must be reported to the public.
There is no doubt in my mind that when a community, a neighborhood, comes to understand what their river once was, the
pollution choking it today, what it could be in the future, what it will be in the future without aggressive action -- there is no
doubt in my mind that they will be willing to make far tougher choices, far better decisions, than some distant bureaucracy.
And so we have given communities new tools for stopping pollution.
When we trust honest business people as partners, not adversaries, we all make progress. While it is always true that it is the
bad actor who gets the attention, many business people try to do the right thing -- understanding it is their air, their water,
their children's future.
And so, under the President's leadership, we challenged business to find creative new ways to exceed existing pollution
standards. Last November, President Clinton launched a cutting-edge program called Project XL -- excellence and
leadership. Working in partnership, business, cities, states, environmentalists, and community activists are designing ways not
just to meet environmental requirements, not just to comply with environmental standards, but to go further, to exceed the
To ensure that both government and business act efficiently, we must target our resources to where they will do the most
good. And so, in just one year, we have eliminated more than 10 million hours of paperwork for businesses and communities
-- the equivalent of returning a quarter-million work-weeks back to the private sector. By the end of this year, we expect to
eliminate another 10 million hours of paperwork -- time that will no longer be spent filling out needless forms, time that will
now be available to ensure that the clean air and clean water standards are met, the toxic waste sites cleaned up.
We recognize that we must reward good faith efforts by business to find and fix environmental problems, to prevent
environmental problems. To respond to the needs of a million small businesses for precise, easy-to-use information how best
to comply with environmental laws, we are establishing four Compliance Assistance Centers.
We're saying to the small businesses of this country, "If you do not understand the requirements, if you think you have
violated the regulations, come forward voluntarily and we will work together to solve the problems. If you have made a
mistake and are committed to fixing that mistake, we can waive the fine." We would rather see the money spent to solve the
prob, prevent the pollution.
But for those intransigent polluters, those who irresponsibly disregard the law, the public has every right to expect their
government to take swift, effective action. And we have taken that action. We have vigorously pursued those who ignore
environmental standards, polluting the public's air and water. We have collected the biggest fines in history.
By changing the system, by strengthening the standards, by enforcing the law, we can enjoy the benefits of a healthy
environment and a healthy economy.
President Clinton has always believed that environmental protection and economic progress go hand in hand. We do not
have to choose between our health and our jobs. In fact, the two are inextricably linked.
Today, the combined rate of unemployment and inflation is at its lowest level since 1968. Under the Clinton Administration,
we have 8.4 million new jobs, 2 million new businesses, 3.6 million new homeowners. Here in Colorado, more than 180,000
During the same period, toxic pollution from industry has steadily declined. In 1993 alone, toxic pollution was down more
than 12 percent -- in just one year.
A healthy economy begets a healthier environment; a healthy environment -- a stronger economy.
All of this environmental progress has been achieved despite the fact that over the past two years we have experienced the
most severe assault on public health and environmental protection in decades.
In the battle over the budget, in the battle over the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws, the President stood firm
for public health and environmental protection. As a result, vital protections are in place and will remain in place.
Now, the President has called on Congress to lock those protections in place through a seven-year balanced budget. The
President has called on all Americans to come together, to restore the bipartisan commitment to the environment that served
this nation so well for the past generation.
The price of a clean, safe environment is that we must always be vigilant. The job is not done.
Here in Colorado, 15 Superfund sites -- toxic waste sites -- need to be cleaned up.
Seven thousand miles of rivers and streams here in Colorado are too polluted to meet basic state standards for public health
and environmental protection. Six fishing advisories are in effect -- warning people to limit the amount of fish they eat from
their local waters.
Two-thirds of Colorado residents -- including the people of Denver -- still breathe air that does not meet federal health
standards. Nearly 600,000 Colorado residents receive their drinking water from systems that violated public health standards
No, the job is not done. Our commitment must not waver.
Our nation is built on a proud tradition of change. Thomas Jefferson said, "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with
the progress of the human mind." As human understanding becomes more developed, Jefferson said, institutions must also
advance, and keep pace with the times.
That is the commitment of this Administration -- to keep pace with the times, to capture the spirit that has made this country
great, to ensure that the public is part of the decisions, and that government fulfills its obligation to protect the things we all
I would ask all of us 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 communities, our economy, and to pass on a safe, healthy world to our children.