THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY EPA ADMINISTRATOR CAROL BROWNER
The Briefing Room
10:25 A.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: And a cheerful good morning to all of you.
Q Good morning.
MR. MCCURRY: Good morning. We've started at an unusual hour today because of the schedule with the President's trip to south Baltimore today. Since he's going up and you don't come back until late this afternoon, I thought it would be useful for us to do a little preemptive briefing on the President's action today. So that's why we are gathered at this unusually early hour, for which I extend my apologies to all except Helen Thomas, who would have been here anyhow.
The President today will act, using his presidential authority, to protect the country, protect the nation's environment at a time when Congress seems determined to eviscerate all those laws on the books that are designed to protect the health and safety of Americans and protect the pristine quality of our environment. He believes he can use his executive power today, acting by executive order, to ensure that those who emit toxic chemicals into communities continue to report and disclose those emissions as they have been required to do since 1986 under passage of the Community Right To Know Act.
The President's executive order today will require those who would do business with the federal government to continue to report on over 650 toxic chemicals that are emitted. He will also instruct the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to expedite rulemaking on other areas, including facilities and other chemical use that could broaden the scope of the executive order that he will outline today.
I thought it would be useful for you to have a chance to ask Administrator Browner some questions. I'll tell those of you who are departing at 11:00 a.m. that we will have a lot of background material and some papers available on the bus. We don't intend to make it available here at the White House until later in the day to reward those who are enlightened enough to journey with the President today. And even though we are doing this briefing now, I would encourage all of you, of course, to put the focus on the President's remarks later in the day. He will be making the news. We will just be helping you understand what that news is. So with that admonishment --
Q Are you coming back afterwards?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'll come back at the end of this if you've got some other areas you want to get into. It's a great pleasure to welcome to the briefing room the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Carol Browner.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: As Mike said, later today the President will announce a series of decisive actions to guarantee that every American, that every community has the right to know about toxic chemicals in their neighborhoods. While we have seen the polluters using their lobbying powers to create special exemptions in bill after bill, provision after provision on the Hill, the President is using his executive powers to protect the health and environment of the American people.
The budget that the House has passed for EPA includes a 34-percent cut in resources available to EPA. It removes all funds for drinking water systems. It includes a 50-percent cut in our enforcement dollars, diminishing our ability to take criminal actions against polluters. It significantly reduces monies available for clean water to protect our rivers, lakes and streams. And it shifts the responsibilities of who pays to clean up the toxic dump sites of this country.
Included in the EPA appropriations bill are 18 riders, specific prohibitions against our ability to act, to adopt standards, to enforce environmental laws, to enforce environmental regulations, including a prohibition on adopting or enforcing standards for petroleum refineries and their toxic air emissions, for hazardous waste incineration; restrictions on our ability to enforce provisions of the Clean Water Act -- when taken together, essentially shuts down the Clean Water Act.
Perhaps most pernicious among the riders is a rider that would essentially limit my ability to guarantee that the people of this country will know about toxic chemicals in their communities, in their neighborhoods. When this law was passed in 1986 -- perhaps one of the most important environmental laws ever passed, signed by President Reagan, subsequently strengthened by President Bush -- the American people were promised three things.
First, they would know toxic chemical emissions in their neighborhood -- what's coming out of the smokestack, what's going into the water, what's happening in their community. Secondly, the EPA Administrator would be allowed to add to the list of chemicals reported, the list of facilities covered, and ultimately, to require reporting on the chemicals used -- not just what's coming out, but what is going in.
The rider does damage to each of those provisions. It essentially puts in serious jeopardy the chemicals that the Clinton administration added in December of this year. Since the beginning of the program in 1986, there have been over 200 chemicals on the list -- I'm sorry -- 329 chemicals on the original list. In December of this year, the administration added 286 chemicals, giving the American people more information about toxic chemical emissions in their neighborhood. The rider puts that in jeopardy. The President is using his executive authorities to ensure that the American people will continue to know about those chemicals, that the ones this administration added to the list, that the information will be available.
The rider also does damage to my ability to add facilities to the list. I announced over a year and a half ago that I thought more facilities should be required to tell the American people what they are doing in their neighborhoods. The rider puts that in serious jeopardy. The President today is directing me to move expeditiously to complete the work on adding facilities to the list, to make sure that we have all of the facilities which we think should be telling the American people about their toxic chemical emissions on the list, further guaranteeing the public's right to know.
Finally, I have announced that I would begin the process of looking at how to report to the American people the chemicals used, what's being brought to the facility -- not just what's being sent out of the facility into the air and the water, but let's get a complete picture for the people of this country of toxic chemical use and emissions. The President is directing me to expedite the development of a use-reporting program to give all of us the full picture we need as a country to guarantee strong public health and environmental protections. And he is saying that he will continue all of his authorities to put in place an insurance policy -- a creature joining us for the environment, right -- to put in place, if necessary, a second executive order should Congress continue its efforts, vis a vis the riders, to take away the public's right to know.
So he is taking three actions today. First, signing an executive order saying if you do business with the government you will report to the American public 651 chemical emissions; directing me to expedite a rulemaking to complete an addition of facilities to the reporting requirement and development of a use program; and third, saying to Congress, if you continue this attack on the public's right to know, I will sign a second executive order expanding facilities, guaranteeing use information, requiring those who do business with the government to inform the citizens of this country about their toxic chemical use.
Q What are the conditions under which he will sign the second order? I'm not sure I understand.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: The second order, the promise of the second order, it's an insurance policy. This is about saying to the American people that I think this right to know is so important and sending a signal to Congress about how important we believe these rights are -- that I will make sure that I use every authority available to me should Congress continue this reckless disregard of the public's right to know -- this effort to roll back access to information on behalf of the American people.
Q Carol, can I ask, how precisely does this executive order countermand whatever was in the rider? And was there any discussion within the administration about whether it wasn't just better to veto these bills in the House than risk this dueling battle of executive orders and more riders and --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, the President is very clear. He has said, Leon Panetta has said, Mike McCurry has said, he will veto the EPA appropriations bill. But he wants to be very clear with the American people that while this program is being jeopardized by Congress, he will use his authorities to ensure their right to know. And he is putting a premium on access to information for the American people. He's taking out an insurance policy and he's sending a signal to Congress which is, look, we'll work with you to craft a responsible budget for EPA if you will recognize that the American people have a right to know that these riders do serious damage to environmental and public health protections, and that we will not tolerate them.
Q What specifically about this latest rider and its effect on the emissions disclosure requirements -- where does his authority come from to do that, and what precisely is he countermanding?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, the authority he's using for the executive order is government procurement. He's saying if you choose to do business with the government then we're going to ask you to inform the American people.
Q So now this would apply to all industries, and he will make it apply to people who are government contractors through his executive order?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: The original law passed in 1986 included a list of chemicals and a list of facilities covered. The facilities covered are largely manufacturing type facilities. There's approximately 20 types of facilities covered. Those two lists actually came from state laws that were in place at the time -- the Maryland and New Jersey laws were the source of those lists.
When I came, and when the President came to office, we said we were going to expand the public's right to know. We thought it was so important. And so the first thing we did was add chemicals to the list, the 286 chemicals that I added in December. That was our first step. Our second step, which we are currently engaged in and we would complete in the next 12 months but for the rider, is to add facilities to the list -- to say that while there are 20 types of facilities covered today, we think there are others, there are other types of industrial facilities that should be reporting to the public. That is an activity we have underway that Congress is seeking to block.
And then the third thing I said that I would do, again to give people access to information, is to develop a use program; to say not only what are you putting out, but what are you taking in. We need as a country the entire snapshot of chemical use so I can make wise regulatory decisions; so that industry can make pollution prevention decisions, which is if there's two ways to make a widget and one uses less chemicals than another they can make that kind of informed decision. And so we have been working on each of these expansions of the program. And Congress is seeking to stop or block or diminish them.
What the President is saying today is in response to each of those. In response to the chemicals expansion in December, he's saying, first of all, I'll veto it; but in the meantime, I think this is so important, and I want to protect the public's right to know that I will sign an executive order saying that anyone doing business with the government on the current facilities list shall always have a right to -- a requirement to report the chemicals they emit.
But, secondly, in the directive, he is telling me to expedite the process I am now engaged in, the rulemaking process for facilities expansion and development of a use program. And then, third, he is saying, if need be -- Congress, I'm sending you a signal -- if need be, I will sign another executive order to guarantee facilities expansion and a use program. There's a simple way to solve this. Take these out.
Q What is this for --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: For government procurement. Right.
Q What percentage of manufacturers and facilities that are now covered by the law would the executive order cover? Are there some who would escape reporting requirements?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Not under the President's action. Under the Congress's action -- absolutely. People would come out.
Q Under the President's action, there isn't a polluter or a so-called polluter in the country that does not do business with the government that could escape the reporting requirements?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Under the President's action, the executive order, facilities -- certain types of facilities doing business with the government will be required to report on 651.
Q What proportion are not doing business with the government?
Q How many more facilities are there in the country that do not do business with the government?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: There are, right now, reporting -- there are 24,000 facilities that are reporting right now.
Q How many of those will the President's order cover?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: We will get you an answer on that.
Q Doesn't all of this assume that you --
Q This approach based on procurement was the same one the President used with striker replacement and it's having trouble in the courts. How confident are you that the courts will uphold this?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, I am very confident. This is not the first time that President Clinton has used his executive powers to expand and to ensure the public's right to know. He signed an executive order requiring federal facilities for the first time ever to report their chemical emissions. And we are moving ahead with the successful implementation of that program. We have not ended up in a litigation, as you suggest.
I think that when it comes to procurement, obviously, we would rather see these rules applied across all industry. But the President believes, on balance, that if he can secure it -- if this is the only way to secure it for the American people in light of what the Congress is doing, then he will look to procurement.
Q And let me just to make sure I'm clear. The riders that you object to roll back the expansions during the Clinton administration. They don't affect the original facilities and chemicals covered in the '86 --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: That is correct. They do damage to the three commitments that this administration made -- chemical expansion, facility expansion, use reporting.
Q But this is so much political theatre, isn't it? I mean, if he's going to veto the legislation, the expansion will take place regardless of the executive order.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: This is an insurance policy to make sure that the public's right to know is preserved, number one. And it is a signal to Congress -- that's exactly right. What he's saying to Congress is, look, I think this is a fundamental right, and I am going to use all of my executive authorities, I'm going to have EPA work even faster than they already are to guarantee an expanded right to know. It was a commitment I made to the American people, and I will take out an insurance policy.
Q To follow on that question, though, this thing passed the House by, what, one vote? It's given no chance in the Senate, and the President said he would veto it. You're acting like it's already the law, but my understanding is it has no chance of being the law.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, the President is very clear that he will veto it. This is an insurance policy. It is a signal to the Senate that we won't tolerate these kind of riders, these kind of reductions in EPA resources. We have long enjoyed bipartisan support in the work that we do at EPA. The vast majority of strong environmental laws in this country were signed into law by Republican Presidents. There is a way to resolve these differences that doesn't result in every environmental statute being rolled back, that doesn't result in a 34-percent cut in EPA's resources.
People should make no mistake about it, when you go back to January and come forward and look at the actions taken in both the House and the Senate, this is a concerted, orchestrated effort to shut down EPA, to make sure that we cannot set another standard, that we cannot give people access to information so they can work in their communities to ensure a decrease in the toxic emissions.
Q What kind of public outcry have you had against these moves in Congress? And is there any kind -- there seems to be a real silence out there in terms of the warnings on the clean air, clean water, and so forth.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, actually -- I will speak from my personal experiences as I have traveled across the country. I have seen large numbers of people who are very concerned about the rollback, about the efforts of the special interests in creating special exemptions, special loopholes. And I think you can see that in terms of the votes. If you look at the large number of Republicans joining with a majority of the Democrats in opposition to these extreme measures, it has been growing over time. We had 50, 51 people voting against these riders that were ultimately reattached. They were once struck and then they were reattached. You see a growing number of people in both the House and the Senate who are very concerned about just how dramatic these proposals are.
Mr. Dole's regulatory reform bill -- he's tried cloture three times now, and he hasn't been able to invoke cloture and apparently has now rejected a very reasonable and modest proposal in terms of changes put forward by the Democrats so that we can advance a regulatory reform package.
Q Is all of this from industry, the pressure from industry because of the cost in implementing?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: I think it's a combination of issues with industry. But I think what we now see, unfortunately, is nothing short of a feeding frenzy. And what's happening is those industries that didn't come into compliance, those industries that didn't make the investment on behalf of the American people to protect their air, their water, their health, are suddenly getting out of any requirements, being released of any obligation. It's an unlevel playing field that's being created. Someone did the right thing; they complied with the law; and suddenly, their competitor goes up to Congress and gets a special exemption. That's not fair to industry and it's not fair to the American people.
Q Administrator Browner, I'm still not clear on what the second executive order would do or why the President doesn't simply sign it instead of threatening to sign it.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Let me explain why. We are right now at EPA engaged in a rulemaking process. What that means is we're talking to industry, to environmentalists about which facilities to add in the expansion, about how to develop a use program that makes sense. We want to continue in that process. We believe -- I believe, the President believes -- that a non-adversarial rulemaking process results in the common sense kind of programs necessary to protect the health of the American people. But what Congress does in their riders is essentially shut those processes down. It prevents us from the dialogue necessary to making wise and informed decisions.
And so what the President is saying to industry and to Congress -- I'm going to ask Carol Browner, I'm going to direct her to continue that dialogue on an expedited basis because I think getting this done is so important. But if you continue in your efforts, then I will sign an executive order because you have denied EPA the right to adopt the rule to complete the process and adopt the rule -- I will sign an executive order. He is leveling the playing field. He is ensuring that at every turn the public's right to know about more chemicals for more facilities and the use of chemicals will be ensured, will be protected.
Q The implication is by continuing the dialogue, industries are better off and more likely to get their points of view understood. Is that --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: That will more likely to be able to craft a common-sense program that results in the appropriate information being available to the public. It always works better when we can work with all stake-holders -- environmentalists, industry, state, local government.
Congress -- and in many of these riders, we see this -- they are denying our ability to work in a common-sense manner because they don't ultimately want us to provide the protections. And in many other instances, we see a further curtailment of access to information for the American people. For example, one of the riders says that states that have adopted what are called audit programs, they would be allowed to shield from the public criminal violations of pollution laws. We see that across --
Q Under the executive order, federal contractors that do not comply with this, are you then saying they will be debarred? Will their contracts be suspended? Is there teeth in this executive order?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Yes, there's a provision in the executive order that empowers the contracting department, the contracting agency to take action if the contractor does not comply with the executive order. There's a provision in there.
Q As things now stand, will anything change as a result of the President's executive order? Will anything be different about reporting tomorrow than it was yesterday?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: What will change is the protection, the guarantee to the American people that their right to know will be preserved, number one, and will be expanded. We can do it through my rulemaking process, which is what the directive is. And if Congress shuts down or does damage to that, then the President will act with a second executive order.
Q But there's no real -- there's no immediate effect from this executive order, is that right? Nothing changes.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, it ensures that those people contracting with the government, the facilities contracting with the government will report regardless of what may happen.
Q Are you saying they face suspension or --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: I'm not a procurement expert. We can give you the paragraph on that. We can show it to you.
Q The Republicans don't have the votes to override a veto. So when you call this an insurance policy, aren't you ensuring against the President signing the bill? I mean, how else could this happen?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: No. This is, one, guaranteeing the American people the right to know. Two -- this is very important -- look at the directive telling us to go much more quickly to expand this program. That's a very bold action on the part of the President. There are clearly people who oppose the expansion of the program. And what the President is saying is, I believe in the fundamental right of the people to know, and I am directing EPA to act more quickly. And if for some reason EPA should be blocked, then I will respond with a second executive order.
In each instance, the President is speaking directly to the damage that Congress seeks to do in our appropriations bill, and, quite frankly, in other parts of the rollback we see in the activities undertaken by the Republicans.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 10:52 A.M. EDT