New Environmentalism Speech                                            Back to New Environmentalism.org   Back to Speech Page

Introduction

Environment--the word comes from a French term meaning "surroundings." Our environment is not something apart from us. It is all that is around us. Our lives are interlinked to the fate of those surroundings. Americans have come to appreciate more and more that linkage. So we Americans have embarked on a great environmental journey--a journey that has begun to bring us many benefits--cleaner air and water, protected wilderness, the resurgence of that great American symbol, the bald eagle, in our countryside.

But we are at a fork in the road. The world around us is changing. Industry has refined its focus away from simple mass production toward quality. Enhancing quality requires empowering every worker to find better ways of doing old tasks. It requires discovery and constant innovation. Industrial ecology--the blending of environmental and economic considerations into decisions about how to design and produce products--is not just theory. It is becoming an essential part of doing business in America.

Our environmental challenges, too, are changing. We have plucked the "low hanging fruit." The gray and brown hazes that darkened some cities at midday are gone. Once polluted waters again are home to fish and other wildlife. Otters have returned to the Adirondaks. More and more, we face localized problems which are much more amenable to solutions for specific sites--problems like how to clean up old, abandoned industrial sites so they can return to productive use in our inner cities, or how to reduce the impacts of small, non-industrial dispersed sources of pollution, or how to make sure small, rural communities have good drinking water.

The New Environmental Ethic

Environmental progress is bumping up against the limitations of one-dimensional, centralized, "command-and-control" prescriptions that treat all problems alike even when they are different. While such an approach may have been necessary twenty years ago, it is no longer appropriate today when most states have demonstrated the capacity to implement environmental laws, in many cases exceeding those of EPA. Environmental entrepreneurs--on farms and in factories--need flexibility to innovate, to use their imagination to build an ever-better world in which folks enjoy peace, prosperity, and environmental protection. New environmentalism requires empowerment at the point where problems and challenges occur. It also means that those closest to problems are held strictly accountable for achieving environmental results.

It recognizes that sometimes the optimal scale will be national, or even global, as in the cases of acid rain, ozone layer depletion, and global warming.

Many in EPA and in the environmental movement are on the front lines of this new environmental ethic. They recognize that the system that was developed over the past twenty-five years is ready for change. They recognize that, to be fully successful, the federal government needs to improve the way it does business. Building upon past accomplishments, they realize that we need to achieve a new level of environmental performance attuned to the problems of the 21st century.

The philosophy of the American people is well suited to this new environmentalism. They know that to achieve quality, individual eco-entrepreneurs, local governments, the states, and the regulated community need to be more a part of environmental decision making. Why? Because they have the "local" and place-specific knowledge necessary to understand the details of a local watershed, an inner city waste site, or a particular production process. Every person, every business, and the government, too, needs to take steps to improve the environment.

We can be proud that both Republican and Democratic Presidents and their EPA Administrators, as well as members of Congress in bipartisan fashion contributed mightily to America's environmental achievements. And we can be proud of the many American citizens who, in their communities and workplaces, have been environmental stewards in many unsung ways.

The American people can be proud of these achievements. But our journey has not ended. We can do better--odds are, a lot better--by taking advantage of new opportunities that our colleagues in state and local government, in universities, and industry, on our farms, and in our forests are telling us about.

A Race to the Top

There is a store of creative ideas in the private sector. An increasing number of firms realize that as with successes in any field, teamwork and involvement by all employees is the key to environmental excellence. Empowering those closest to the problem will result in better, long lasting solutions.

And there is a new breed of state regulators engaged in what might be called a "race to the top." They are seeking new methods of achieving environmental progress--methods that harness private stewardship, flexibility, innovation, and a focus on problem-solving over the old emphasis on punishment.

Americans celebrate the ingenuity of the states and their citizens. Americans also celebrate the power of personal responsibility. We believe that this ingenuity and responsibility will open the way to further environmental progress. The new environmentalism unfolding before us has four main features. Our bipartisan plan builds on these features.

We need to nurture the new environmental federalism now emerging. For thirty years we have tended to push all problems up to Washington. The states may have been inexperienced in the 1970s when so many of our environmental laws were passed. But the states have matured. They have well-developed environmental laws. Many states have more stringent laws than those required by the federal government. Nine out of ten enforcement actions in the nation are brought by the states. Many states have a talented pool of environmental engineers, technicians, and other experts. Above all, the states are closest to many of the real environmental problems that we still face.

The localities and communities are even closer. They are best able to balance competing environmental interests and come up with solutions that are most meaningful to them. An increasing number of localities, like Chicago, IL, Columbus, OH and Charlotte, NC, have gained high-level expertise through relationships with their own neighboring universities and private sector.

The new environmentalism does not call for a universal shift of all problem-solving to the states. Some states are more advanced than others. And while localities are even more uneven in their environmental capacities, they’re coming of age as environmental stewards, too. Some problems are national in scope and need uniform, national approaches. We believe that strong federal leadership is necessary when it comes to making decisions on air pollution that blows with the wind across state lines, or on oil tankers that ply our coastlines and on rivers that cross state boundaries. But even there, it is essential that affected states and localities bring their experiences, understanding and ideas into the federal decisions. And while that’s happening more and more, because people in the states and localities want their voices to be heard, we have just begun to harvest the wealth of environmental ingenuity growing up all over the country.

And while global competition demands an appropriate uniformity in standards across the fifty states, many environmental problems are really very local--like cleaning up industrial sites. And states are stepping up to these challenges. Fifteen states have their own "brownfields" programs; another thirty or so have other clean up and remediation programs. These programs are getting the job done faster and cheaper than the federal Superfund program.

In Pennsylvania, for example, over 300 sites have entered its clean up program; over 100 have already been cleaned up in just a few years. By contrast, the federal program in Pennsylvania has cleaned up 33 of 103 sites over a sixteen-year period.

Along with clean-up has come prosperity. One Pennsylvania site abandoned in 1958 has been cleaned up and is now home to a micro-brewery, a specialty steel distributor, a computer service, and an automotive training center.

Americans celebrate these state triumphs. The states should be rewarded with greater responsibility, authority, and resources so they can move ahead with their ideas and plans for environmental progress. Americans favor the kind of progress that empowers these state and local "foot soldiers" in the struggle for a better environment. But along with any greater flexibility, they want states to be held strictly accountable for achieving environmental results. In the meantime, if federal agencies--EPA, Interior, Transportation--nurture this growing environmental federalism, they will succeed in stimulating the American people to new heights of environmental achievement.

We need to move toward more flexible approaches and away from top-down, one-size-fits-all micromanagement. The American people know that applying maximum innovation to environmental progress is not only possible but essential. Global competition has honed the creative powers of our businesses. We have the best technologies in the world to accomplish our environmental goals. Our states, localities, and businesses need to be freed up to use these technologies and ideas. They should be held accountable for achieving environmental results, not simply the extent to which they follow federally prescribed rules and regulations. They shouldn’t be required to present every innovation to Washington for approval.

Many states, in a bipartisan fashion, already know how to empower local companies--and they are doing it. But they have only limited freedom to move forward with flexible, innovation-inspiring programs. All too often, American industry finds it easier to use new, more efficient technology in plants overseas where permits are more performance-driven, rather than based on specific technologies.

Illinois, for example, worked out an agreement with one company that sets performance goals but does not tell the company how to meet those goals--and does not require reams of paperwork and permitting. Today, when concept-to-marketing time is sometimes a year or less for some businesses, a six-month wait for permit approval from Washington can be devastating.

Illinois's emphasis on flexibility contrasts sharply with the federal approach which one Illinois regulator describes as a "one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter, do-it-our-way-or-take-the-highway type of thing." American prosperity has been achieved because American workers have always had elbow room to search for better mousetraps. Constant environmental progress requires that same kind of searching. Command-and-control programs lock in yesterday's knowledge and deter environmental entrepreneurship.

Speaking of knowledge, many states have access to some of the world’s best universities with some of the best scientists right in their midst.

Greater freedom to select the best ways to achieve environmental progress will create an explosion of environmental benefits. Opportunities for environmental improvements should be identified by the states and localities, not just by those in Washington. Many in the private sector have led the way in innovating pollution prevention, "design for the environment," life-cycle design, and total quality environmental management. These efforts make the environment cleaner, often at less cost. And these efforts sometimes free up resources so that we can expand our environmental investment into our inner cities, harbors, parks, and other ecosystems.

Our new environmentalism focuses on harnessing "private stewardship" and "green business practice" instead of just pushing for punishment. All regulatory programs need some sticks to prod ill-deed doers into compliance. And big sticks for "bad actors." But environmental progress over the long term requires self-propelled environmental protection by businesses, farmers, and private citizens. Environmental entrepreneurship can't occur unless people have the right incentives, don't face punishment for trying to discover and fix problems, and have the power to act as private stewards.

In Wyoming, ranchers now get rewards for preserving grizzlies instead of just punishment for destroying them. In New York, state regulators partner with companies and private citizens to reintroduce otters into the state's rivers. In Colorado, farmers now have incentives to preserve elk.

And some states now encourage businesses to undertake comprehensive, on-site environmental reviews so they know what problems to fix. These businesses need to know that if they uncover previously unknown problems--problems which would not otherwise have been discovered--they won't face punishment unless they fail to fix the problem.

Americans themselves are optimistic about their future. We understand that focusing on punishment breeds fear and secrecy, but creating environmental incentives fosters creativity, conservation, and stewardship. We want to strike the right balance.

Our new environmentalism emphasizes the importance of honesty and balance. Science is too important to politicize or to ignore. Americans want to protect the integrity of scientific research when environmental decisions are made by those with regulatory and political power. Just about all environmental policy loses common sense if science is ignored or manipulated. Good science will result in better environmental performance and getting it right the first time will be cheaper and more effective in the long run.

The good news is we have the ability to detect small amounts of chemicals in our environment which used to be undetectable. But we need to know how to use this information. The environment is made up of many competing risks. Science can help us understand those risks so we can address the most important problems first and find the best ways to solve them.

Sometimes reducing one risk increases another. Reality is tricky. We need to look at our total "risk ledger" instead of having "risk tunnel vision" in which we push to completely eliminate some detectable chemical while forgetting that such an effort may create new problems or leave other big problems unaddressed.

When adequately informed, the American people understand that reducing environmental risks is a great balancing act--and good science is essential to understanding that. The good news is that we can find quality science and scientists in our states and localities that live next door to the problems and opportunities in their own environment. Our commitment is to make environmental investments that are truly useful and enhance the quality of life of all Americans, bringing in the pool of capable and responsible individuals and institutions beyond Washington. If it means changing the system to do that, then that’s our commitment too.

The American people also believe that honesty is always the best policy. We need to provide them with environmental information that is sound, that can be more easily understood, and perhaps, most of all, useful.

Summary

A growing number of observers--Democrats and Republicans--believe a new environmentalism is emerging. We support this new environmentalism.

We believe that the path to environmental progress lies in the wellspring of creativity now unfolding among our state and local regulators and private citizens. The time is ripe for EPA to begin to return substantial authority to our states, engaging more as a partner, mentor, facilitator, and educator. While not all states are the same, neither is EPA the only road to environmental improvement.

We need to move toward more flexible approaches and away from top-down, one-size-fits-all micromanagement. Americans recognize that states, localities, businesses, and citizens need flexibility to create better environmental mousetraps and reduce our environmental footprint on the earth.

We need to inspire environmental progress through incentives that harness business and personal responsibility or "stewardship." We should make parties more accountable for environmental results and provide incentives for new approaches to address environmental problems. Some punishment of ill-deed doers is always necessary, but the American dream is built on the enterprising spirit of its citizens nourished through providing opportunity not roadblocks and punishment. Prosperity and environmental progress through eco-entrepreneurship point the way to all Americans future.

Finally, we need honesty and balance. No good decision is ever produced through ignoring science and hard choices. It means assessing and balancing risks. The American people want to make sure that we take actions that will really make a difference--and that means incorporating the very best, most accurate and available science into our decisions. And we should tell the American people if we don’t have it.

Our new environmentalism is a journey that is already under way--spontaneously, through the insights of our states, localities, and private citizens. Americans want to remove the roadblocks that stand in the way of this environmental journey. We all want to nourish eco-entrepreneurship and environmental innovation. We want a better world, a better environment, peace, and prosperity. Hard and fast rules that can’t change with changing knowledge will not keep us on a path to environmental progress. Our new environmentalism will.

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