THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Vice President
REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT ALBERT GORE AT WHITE HOUSE CONFERENCE ON ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGY Grand Hyatt Washington, DC
Thank you so much. I'm so happy to see this room filled to overflowing, and I'm so encouraged and optimistic by the agenda that you have before you. I'm looking forward to participating at various points during the conference, and I'll look forward to the roundtable tomorrow, for example, and to getting a full report at each stage of the process. It is a process that has been ongoing for some time, and I'm very excited by it and grateful that you all are here.
Twenty-five years ago when Commander Neil Armstrong was invited to address a joint session of Congress after his Moon voyage, he said man must understand his universe in order to understand his destiny.
The Apollo missions and all of our journeys into space have done so much to help us understand our universe, but they have also given us a chance to gaze on a world which was also, to some extent, unexplored -- our own. None of us will ever forget those grainy images of our astronauts pressing their boots down and planting an American flag on the untrod surface of the moon. But Apollo not only changed our view from our planet, it, of course, also changed our view of this planet, and made us realize the fragility of our own world.
I think even before Armstrong's famous step the image of the earth that Frank Borman's mission broadcast back with the earth rising over the moon's horizon was a breakthrough for millions, perhaps billions, of people who had conceived of the earth as an entire entity but were greatly assisted -- and I speak for myself here -- by the ability to see it visually as it really is, surrounded by an infinite black backdrop like the one that Jack and his folks have put here. And I don't think it's any coincidence at all the that the first Earth Day immediately followed our first missions to the moon. This new awareness, the new ability to see the earth floating in space led directly to a new ability on the part of so many of us to understand the importance of protecting it against the insults of pollution and carelessness that are now on a global scale, posing new threats to the ecological system of the earth.
Thus, it's not a coincidence that the National Environmental Policy Act became law in 1970. Twenty five years ago we faced a huge environmental challenge. We still do, but it's important to acknowledge the progress that we have made. Twenty-five years ago many people simply could not swim or fish in waters near major urban centers.
Unfortunately, that's still true for some of them. The disposal of municipal waste, uncontrolled use of pesticides and herbicides and releases of hazardous wastes and toxic chemicals were contaminating the land and the ground water across our nation. The use of persistent pesticides and inattention to ecosystem protection threatened numerous species of plants and animals, including our national symbol, the bald eagle.
In response to those threats and others, our nation made a commitment, as it stated in the Environmental Policy Act, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony and fulfill the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.
Well, we all know that human beings and nature can exist in productive harmony. We can fulfill the social, economic and other requirements of this and future generations. That's what we mean when we use the phrase "sustainable development." We want to meld our economic and environmental aspirations.
We've come a long way in the last 25 years. Lead, for example, was a serious public health threat two decades ago. Now, because of government legislation and regulation, exposure to lead has declined significantly, and the threat to our children has been reduced substantially, although the threat is still there and more work is needed. And just yesterday in our Western Hemisphere summit meeting in Miami, every democratically elected leader of this hemisphere, 34 out of the 35 countries, agreed to completely ban lead in gasoline throughout the Western Hemisphere.
We've also made great progress in other areas -- exposure to pesticides, particulate air pollution, and industrial and municipal discharge of water pollutants. Our regulatory system has led to the internalization of environmental thinking and concern in our industries. We changed the cost equation in the marketplace to include environmental impact as a factor.
Today we have companies that voluntarily go far beyond what regulations require, we have firms which undertake independent audits of their environmental performance and then proudly publish the results. And we have companies that work with neighborhood and environmental groups to solve shared environmental problems. In fact, the largest single economic development project in the state of New York is a partnership between an environmental group, the National
Resources Defense Council, and some private companies to recycle paper in an area that needs jobs.
So, yes, it's worthwhile to acknowledge all of the progress that has been made, but as we do so, we have to also soberly recognize how much farther we have to go. One-third of our population still lives in communities where the air is dangerous to the health of people who are breathing it. And even though we made a commitment many years ago to clean up our rivers and lakes, more than one-third of our rivers and lakes are still unsuitable for fishing or swimming -- one not far from here. And there's more. Many of the problems we face today are more subtle, more intractable and more costly to solve.
What is worse is that presently we're not tackling these problems effectively. In some cases we just don't have the technology to deal with our current problems. And as we move into the future, we have an even larger challenge: to place ourselves on the path of sustainable development. And to do that, we must pursue a fundamental technological transformation, a transformation that will allow us to focus our attention on anticipation and prevention as opposed to simply reaction and remediation. We cannot continue to squander our economic and natural resources in the catch-up, clean-up game.
Over the coming decades, the U.S. economy must be able to deliver high-quality products and services to domestic and world markets with significantly less energy and material inputs and a dramatic decrease in environmental impacts. As a nation, we must shift to fundamentally new technology trajectories rather than just increase our pace along the same old technological paths.
The successful industries of the future will be those that have made this transformation in technology, efficiency and productivity. They will make the shift from waste management to pollution prevention and to the efficient use of resources. They will become models of an industrial ecology built on a closer integration of our systems with nature's systems. I've often used the simplistic analogy of the hunter looking for bears and being unable to see them in the woods, and as a result, the hunter follows the bear's tracks or gets a good hunting dog that can follow the bear's scent.
In just that same way, an industrialist who is looking for inefficiency, having long since eliminated the most visibly obvious inefficiencies, may be unable to find the remaining inefficiencies as quickly as his competitors. What does he do? He follows the tracks or the scent. The pollution turns out to be more often than not the most easily recognizable marker for inefficiency.
Environmental waste is economic waste. Factories produce products and pollution. If you eliminate the pollution, you consume fewer raw materials in order to produce the pollution. This revolution in efficiency goes hand in hand with our efforts to clean up the environment. And, of course, the new technologies that are applied directly to the task of clean-up are now being manufactured, sold and purchased around the world in increasing volumes.
The environmental technology industry is now one of the most promising sources of new, sustainable, high-paying jobs in the United States, with revenues estimated at $134 billion and more than one million jobs. Globally, environmental technology in 1992 amounted to nearly $300 billion. By 1997 it is expected to surpass $400 billion. Both domestically and globally, environmental technology means jobs, good jobs, and economic growth.
We need better technologies now to clean up existing pollution. We need still better technologies for tomorrow to prevent pollution. And we need to establish the United States as the world leader in the environmental industry. But we have some obstacles that we have to clearly recognize and deal with.
It's hard to recognize that anything could stop us, because we seem to have everything we need. We have smart engineers, the best in the world. We have world-class universities and research laboratories, and we have more than 45,000 companies in America who contribute to the nation's environmental technology industry.
But we have a regulatory system that lacks flexibility and is too cumbersome. Too often, technological change is stifled by overly prescriptive statutory and regulatory provisions. We need to find ways to encourage innovation, creativity and risk-taking. Pursuing more sophisticated environmental technology requires a more sophisticated regulatory system, a system that is more efficient, more effective in our current competitive and technological landscape.
Of course, we hear a lot today that the costs to industry of regulation are to high, and in essence what they're saying is that economic and environmental policies are inherently in conflict. They're not. That is the wrong conclusion from the evidence. We don't need to choose either one or the other.
Protecting the environment can and must be good business, but not if we continue to squander our resources. Look, for example, at the cost of cleaning up a hazardous waste site.
Where are our resources going? We're spending too much time and way too much money in the courtroom litigating, and we're not spending enough time in the field remediating. If protecting the environment is too costly in our current system, we're left with two choices. We can either lower environmental standards because the cost of complying is too high, or we can find a better, more efficient way to achieve our goals.
Well, looking at these kids here, I hope that we can find a pretty broad agreement in our country that it's wrong to lower our standards and discount our children's future. The central problem is not the standards. It is the approach and the cost to achieve our standards. So the solution lies in fixing the system. And as I said earlier, we need to change the cost equation and change the way we do business. We need to reinvent the way we go about advancing environmental technology.
The central premise of our efforts to reinvent government is that creating a government that works better and costs less will give the taxpayer the absolute maximum value for every tax dollar. In terms of environmental technology, that means developing statutes and regulations that promote innovation instead of stifling them. That means fostering partnerships between the private and public sectors.
The next generation of environmental policy must stress flexibility with increasing accountability and environmental quality. Without flexibility we will not innovate. Without accountability we will not have the trust to work together. And without a commitment to increasing environmental quality, we will not achieve a sustainable future.
Look again at the cost of cleaning up hazardous waste sites. I remember when the Superfund law passed in December of 1980. It was a post-election lame duck session of Congress, the last one until the 1994 session. Immediately after the law was passed, the new administration came into power and was very hostile to environmental laws, at least at the beginning, with James Watt and Anne Gorsich Burford (sp), and the Congress distrusted the administration.
And so each effort by the administration to hack away at the new environmental law led to renewed efforts by the Congress to overly prescribe detailed actions the administration had to take. By the time this process has run its course for several years, virtually all flexibility was taken out of the administration of the law. And that's expensive. We have to go beyond that kind of approach. We have to rely more on trust between the two branches of government, between the government and the industry and environmental groups.
Industry can play, in many ways, the key role in helping to build the kind of trust that will make possible flexibility and rapid progress, and we have to think more about incentives for the right of kind of change, incentives for industry to go beyond the standards we've set, to go beyond the best available technologies.
We must put American ingenuity in the power of the free-market system to work building a sustainable future.
We must move rapidly to develop, demonstrate, commercialize and then quickly apply the technologies that can save our society billions of clean-up dollars. If we don't have the technologies that we now need, we should admit it and get to work advancing the technologies that can do the job more efficiently, and if we don't have the regulatory system we need, it's time we go to work and fix that as well. And we're doing that.
Last July I released a report called "Technology for a Sustainable Future," which lays out the key issues associated with the advancement of environmental technology. We asked the National Science and Technology Council to undertake a series of technical workshops and policy symposia around the country to learn more about the views of individuals in industry, academia, NGOs, and state and local government as to how federal policies and programs can be improved to encourage the advancement of environmental technologies.
Central to this effort was the identification of public-private and federal-state partnerships to advance the development and commercialization of environmental technologies, whether avoidance or control, remediation or monitoring. And what we found is that these partnerships really work.
For example, Motorola, working with the Department of Energy, developed a wave solder process that entirely eliminate the needs for cleaning solvents for the manufacture of electronic printed wire boards. If this process is adopted by the electronics industry, an estimated 11,000 tons of ozone depleting emissions and 19 trillion BTUs of energy could be conserved. That's worth considering.
Here's another example. Each year more than 500 million gallons of spray paint are applied on surfaces. For every gallon of paint sprayed, about 4-1/2 pounds of pollution is released into the atmosphere. That's 4-1/2 pounds times 500 million every year.
Well, Union Carbide Chemical and Plastics Company, along with NSFsupported researchers at Johns Hopkins University, are doing something about it, developing spray paint and coating technology that reduces emissions by up to 80 percent, an 80 percent reduction. Well, that's not all. The new process not only causes less pollution, it also costs less in labor and improves the quality of the final product. And how many people here have had exactly the same experience in finding that innovations that are designed to reduce the amount of pollution end up providing a bonus in that they cost less and provide higher quality products and services. These results often go together -- not just sometimes, but often.
I want to give you one final example of the partnership approach that we're taking, the partnership for a new generation of vehicles. The big three auto companies, along with the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy and Transportation, the EPA, NASA, NSF and the Office of Environmental Policy are all working together to create the car of the future. With a prototype car planned for the year 2004, research is focusing on manufacturing productivity, fuel efficiency, emissions and safety, with a goal of a three times increase in fuel efficiency with the same or better performance at the same or better price as current vehicles. The potential is absolutely enormous and the level of excitement is very high in the industry and among the other participants.
Well these are the success stories, and of course there are many more that I could also cite, but what they all have in common is that they epitomize what is best about our country when we really decide to solve a problem -- ingenuity and cooperation. And our goal must be to make these examples the rule rather than the exceptions. That means that we're going to have to focus on a different set of incentives, a different way of evaluating success and monitoring performance, and a different relationship between the government and the private sector. And we're going to talk about all of that during this conference.
We have to move beyond our current command and control regulatory system to a new paradigm that rewards creativity and risk-taking and strives for efficiency through innovation. This is the way to transform our activities from catch-up/clean-up to prevention and avoidance, and this is the way to bring together the expertise and resources of the public and private sectors to achieve technological transformation in the environmental arena and build a more competitive economy.
We're reexamining our regulatory programs to find ways to encourage greater innovation and use of environmental technologies. You'll be hearing about them these next couple of days. We're working with the states to find ways to speed the regulatory permitting process, and we're developing verification programs to help technology developers achieve the independent performance assessment they need to commercialize their technologies in a timely fashion. With program like Climate-Wise and the Common Sense Initiative that you will also be hearing about, agencies like the Department of Energy under Secretary O'Leary and the Environmental Protection Agency under Administrator Browner are already building new alliances with industry to improve their environmental performance through voluntary actions.
The National Science and Technology Council has critically examined federal research and development programs and developed a comprehensive strategy to ensure that federal programs are well coordinated and directed to the long-term needs of the public and private sectors.
We have developed and are implementing an aggressive government-wide environmental technologies export strategy.
We will build on our national and global information infrastructure. We are creating a global information network for environmental technologies designed to support collaborative work on new environmental solutions and to help connect innovations with capital and markets. In fact, through the Internet, we will be exchanging ideas with colleagues around the world throughout this conference. And we're working around the world to expand environmental management capacity and programs, and we're finding eager partners in the rest of the world. And finally, we're working with a range of stakeholders to speed up the commercialization process.
Today we're undertaking a new initiative that will help technologies move more quickly from R&D to commercialization. The goal of this effort, the Rapid Commercialization Initiative, or RCI, is simple: to ensure that good ideas for environmental solutions reach the market quickly; in other words, bridging the gap that too often limits the advancement of promising environmental technologies. We'll do this in a number of ways, like increasing the availability of federal sites for technology demonstration and testing, and working with the states to streamline the permitting process.
We're also establishing a one-stop shop for information on federal environmental technology programs. Through an interagency environmental technology office, experts can share information with individuals and organizations within and outside government. And Secretary Ron Brown will discuss this initiative in more detail later this afternoon.
Well, in closing, let me say that I've long believed that the global environmental crisis is actually a manifestation of a dramatic change in the relationship between human civilization and the ecological system of the earth, a change in that relationship that has been produced by a combination of three factors: the population explosion; the scientific and technological revolution -- and which, for all its blessings, has also increased our power to affect the environment around us and has sometimes led to unintended damage; and third, a new way of thinking that has allowed too many people to believe that they can simply ignore the consequences of today's actions for tomorrow.
We need to address all three of those challenges. We've taken an important step forward in our world with the achievement of a new consensus worldwide in Cairo earlier this year on how to stabilize the world's population. This meeting may ultimately be looked back upon as being even more important if it helps to catalyze the tremendous rapid movement in American industry, to establish the Unite States as an even stronger leader world wide in the development, innovation, and application of new environmental technologies. We will clean up the environment and create jobs at the same time.
Our world's changed a lot since that day when Neil Armstrong radioed back "The eagle has landed." It continues to change quickly. Our environmental policy must reflect and respond to these changes. We need a paradigm shift in our policies towards our environment and the economy. That third factor that has led to the environmental crisis, our way of thinking, is where the most work needs to be done. We need to change the environmental, energy and economic equation, and devise ways to take advantage of the tremendous forces of the marketplace to achieve our objectives.
Most important a of all we need you, each and every one of you. It's time to change the system -- yes -- but we need your skill, your ingenuity, and most of all, your commitment. Because you're on the cutting edge of technological advancement. It's our job to give you the opportunity to do what you do best, and this conference is designed to develop a national strategy that will enable us to do just that.
Together we can and will make the future brighter for everyone, because it's the collective decisions of more than 250 Americans and more broadly, 5-1/2 billion individuals worldwide, that ultimately will determine our progress towards sustainable development.
In the quest to understand our universe, we've learned more about ourselves. And as we understand more, we realize that our destiny lies in protecting the ecological system which sustains our life.
President Kennedy once said it's our task and our time and in our generation to hand down undiminished to those who come after us as was handed down to us by those who came before the natural and wealth and beauty which is ours. Let us use science, technology, education and partnership to fulfill this task and along the way create jobs and strengthen our economy. That is the the strategy that will benefit us today and benefit the generations of tomorrow. Thank you for your role in making it possible.
Thank you very much.