THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Baltimore, Maryland) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release February 19, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY EPA ADMINISTRATOR CAROL BROWNER, SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE DAN GLICKMAN, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF THE WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY BRADLEY CAMPBELL, UNDER SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE FOR ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES JIM LYONS, AND DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY BARRY TOIV
The Harbour Court Hotel Baltimore, Maryland
1:58 P.M. EST
MR. TOIV: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to Baltimore. Here to brief on the President's Clean Water Action Plan are Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman; EPA Administrator Carol Browner; Bradley Campbell, who is the Associate Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He is Katie McGinty's Deputy. And Jim Lyons, is also here. He is the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Environment and Natural Resources.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: The President has just announced the Clean Water Action Plan, which is the first ever blueprint to address what is really the most stubborn water pollution problem we face. As the President said, we've made a lot of progress in the last 25 years, but 40 percent of our rivers and lakes are still too polluted for fishing, for swimming.
He announces a blueprint today. It is the single, largest commitment since 1972, the passage of the original Clean Water Act, to finish the task of cleaning up our rivers and lakes. Included as part of this action plan are over 100 specific commitments, standards to be set, partnerships to be built, commitments that range from safeguarding the fish we eat, controlling polluted run-off, toughening standards for nitrogen and phosphates, restoring and protecting our wetlands, an essential part of how we protect our water resources for this country.
SECRETARY GLICKMAN: Thank you. I'm Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture. I mentioned when I made my comments at the time that Carol made hers, before the President spoke, that 25 years ago, when the Clean Water Act was passed, I doubt you would have seen a Secretary of Agriculture working with the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on these issues.
But 70 percent of the land in this country is privately owned. Eighty percent of the land is actually under the auspices -- when you consider private farm issues as well as the forest service -- under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture. Most of the watersheds in this country either touch public land in some way, the Forest Service land or are involved with agriculture. And agriculture has both a lot to contribute as well as a lot to gain in being a partner in this clean water effort.
So what the President's plan proposes is a significant amount of money in technical assistance to clean up watersheds and to deal with issues like animal waste; in addition to that, working cooperatively with the EPA, and we want to involve farmers in a positive, incentive-based way to contribute to finding technical solutions to this problem.
In addition, the President has charged us with redoubling our research efforts. And one of the things I announced this morning was, in fact, that we had announced a new technology developed by USDA which modifies the corn plant -- when the feed is consumed by a pig or by a cow, as it goes through the digestive process it comes out with about 50 percent less phosphorous than what it would ordinarily come in. I mention that because there are many, many answers to the problems associated with clean water. Clearly, agriculture has a great role to play.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Questions?
Q Ms. Browner, what did the PH test the President did on that canal have to do with clean water?
ADMINISTRATION BROWNER: It's one of the tests that are important for us to understand exactly the status of a particular river or lake. There are numerous water quality tests that are taken of rivers and lakes across the country. And part of this announcement, part of the Clean Water Action Plan will be to expand the monitoring of our water resources to give us better information about the state of our rivers, our lakes, our streams, so that we can then take the steps to improve the quality to reduce the pollution of the rivers and lakes.
Q Why did the 1972 Clean Water Act fall so far short of accomplishing its stated goal of cleaning up all the lakes, rivers and streams?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: When the country began the effort in 1972 of cleaning up our rivers and lakes, we focused on what was then -- what we believed to be the greatest problem. It was the discharge of raw sewage, of industrial toxics, industrial pollutants, the pipes that were discharging untreated pollutants into our rivers and lakes. That's what caused the Cuyahoga to catch on fire.
In working on these point sources, on working to reduce the pollution coming from our industrial facilities coming from our waste water treatment plants we've made a lot of progress. We have dramatically reduced by billions of pounds the pollution discharge from pipes.
In doing that, we literally discovered another problem, and that is polluted runoff. That is what happens every time it rains. The water, the rainwater picks up the chemicals that are on our urban streets, on our yards, from the farms, and it carries it down to our rivers and lakes. It's not as easy to see as the raw sewage, as some of the other pollutants we have already addressed. It is more stubborn to solve. You can't simply go out and find the pipe and put a better filter in, reduce the pollution.
This announcement today is designed to address that problem, the problem of polluted runoff, which is without a doubt the most important problem we face today in terms of protecting our rivers and lakes. Literally, what can happen 30, 40, 50 miles from here can affect the water quality of this harbor. And that story is told over and over again across the country. Never before has the Environmental Protection Agency joined with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers, NOAH -- all of us coming together and making a set of commitments, taking a set of actions that are designed to address this most stubborn problem and the most pressing problem we face in terms of the health of our rivers and lakes.
MR. CAMPBELL: Let me just tell you a little bit of what USDA Agriculture brings to the table. One of the things, our goal is to provide 2 million miles of buffer strips along streams and watershed areas by the year 2002. Several months ago we came up here in Maryland and we announced a program called the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, over $200 million to provide farmers with the incentives to lay off their land and not produce it along streams and tributaries that flow into the Chesapeake Bay.
Just today we did the same thing in Minnesota. We announced a similar program with the Governor of Minnesota -- again, over $200 million to do the same thing. And we have similar programs that we would like to get approved in short order in Illinois, in Oregon and in Washington State, as well. The fact is, is that a lot of the drinking water that people in cities have begins as streams and watersheds in rural areas, and there are very positive, constructive roles that we and USDA, working cooperatively with farmers can do to try to prevent runoff from occurring.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Let me just spend a moment detailing some of the specific actions that we have committed to take as part of this plan, and these are not unique to EPA, they will involve a number of federal agencies, state and local government.
First of all, our new, tougher water quality standards, focusing on the most prevalent problems we face today -- nitrogen phosphorous. Standards for the large animal feeding lots, a 1,000 head of hog, the discharges -- many of you are familiar with the problems in North Carolina associated with those discharges into rivers and lakes. Increased enforcement and assistance to states to control discharges that contaminate the fish, the shellfish that people want to eat.
More than $120 million in new assistance to states and tribes to curb polluted runoff, to actually focus on cleaning up that rainwater, the contaminated runoff, before it enters the river, the lake. Incentives for private land stewardship. New resources for watershed. Perhaps most importantly, a commitment to have a net, to achieve a net increase of 100,000 acres of wetlands.
Wetlands are incredibly important to preserving and cleaning up our rivers and lakes. They are the natural kidney, if you will. They filter out the pollutants. So a commitment to achieve a net increase of 100,000 wetland acres by the year 2005.
A program designed to protect our beaches. We still have far too many beach closings in this country. People want to spend an afternoon at the beach with their children -- the can't. The beach is closed, the water is contaminated, it is not safe. A program to ensure that beach waters are tested, that the results of those tests are made available to the American people, that we reduce the pollution that causes those beach closures.
And finally, an expanded citizen's right to know program. This administration has had a remarkable record of giving the American people more access to information about pollution in their communities, engaging them in the process of reducing that pollution. And as part of this plan we will again give people access to information so they can become a part of developing the solutions to this most pressing problem.
Q So after this five-year plan, how many -- what percent of the 40 percent can you swim in and fish in?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, we have high hopes, but the truth of the matter is, within that 40 percent there's a range of problems. Some of them may be easily solved through a watershed plan, through a wetland restoration, through the buffer zones; others of them will take more time, they are more complex. But it is fair to say that with these actions, the health of literally every water body in this country will improve. And more and more will become available for recreational use, for fishing, it will help us address the drinking water problems that we have been working to solve.
It's important to understand that it's not simply a question of having a pretty river or lake; it is a question of our health, it is a question of our food, it is a question of our drinking water.
Q What does this 40 percent actually involve? Is this volume or square acres or length or --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: There is a study that is done in cooperation with the states, local governments, and EPA that rates water bodies across the country. And 40 percent is sort of looking at the country as a whole -- all of the water out there -- and saying what part of it meets standards and what part doesn't. So you could have, for example, a river, a very long river where a portion of it is meeting the standards, but another portion is not meeting the standards. So I think it's -- the easiest way to say it is it's sort of all of the surface water, fresh water, surface fresh water in the United States.
Q So a deep lake of clean water wouldn't count; it's just the surface?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Oh, no, by surface water what we mean is non-ground water. Never mind. Forget the word surface water. What we mean are rivers, lakes, and streams. It's 40 percent of the rivers, lakes, and streams still do not meet the standards, the clean water standards that have been set over the last 25 years.
Q The President said that he called on Congress to reauthorize the Clean Water Act. Are you working with any of your allies on the Hill to draft legislation, or will there be any such attempt?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: As many of you probably remember, several years ago the administration sent to Congress a comprehensive proposal to strengthen the Clean Water Act. Congress rejected that and, in fact, some in Congress put forward proposals that we believe would have weakened the clean water protections, the Clean Water Act. The President has called on Congress again to work with us to strengthen it. We stand ready to work with any and all members who share our commitment to a tougher program, to a tougher law. And we will be meeting with members in the coming days and weeks to see if we can't secure that support.
Obviously, the budget request that is pending before Congress includes in FY '99 an increase, new dollars, $568 million for the first phase of this action plan. And we will all be up -- I know Secretary Glickman and I, who have the largest share of that money, will be up before Congress shortly arguing for those new dollars, much of which will flow to farmers and states to do this work.
Q You're calling for a strengthening of the Clean Water Act --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Yes.
Q -- not necessarily a reauthorization?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER; It would be a reauthorization. The Clean Water Act, in fact, has expired, but we continue to operate under it. But we would like Congress in the reauthorization of the Clean Water Act to actually strengthen the protections and to give us even better tools to address polluted runoff. When the law was originally and when it's been reauthorized previously, the focus has not been on the side of polluted runoff.
What the President is doing today is saying, I want Congress to do that, but if Congress doesn't do it I'm going to go ahead with a plan. I can do all of this through existing authorities. I can go out there and I can actually address the polluted runoff problems that face communities.
SECRETARY GLICKMAN: In the agriculture area, the 1996 Farm Bill substantially changed the way the federal government dealt with farmers, moving away from paying farmers not to produce crops into an environment where the payments farmers receive are largely based upon long-term conservation practices. So what we don't have is all the money we need, which is something we're going to have to go together on. But by and large, the '96 farm program, Congress wisely moved us in the direction of this particular clean water plan.
MR. CAMPBELL: Yes, I just want to add, I think the significance of the President's action today is that it breaks an impasse over the Clean Water Act and over Clean Water Act reauthorization really. It breaks an impasse in one sense in that much of the President's energy and certainly Administrator Browner's energy on clean water has been merely to protect the authorities we have from efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act under a hostile Congress, particularly the 104th.
The second way it breaks an impasse is that reauthorization has been tied up. And it has been tied up in this sense: Experts in the environmental community say you can't get cleaner water unless you toughen standards and tackle the problem of polluted runoff. States and the agriculture community and landowners say you can't toughen standards, you can't tackle polluted runoff because we don't have the resources.
What the President has done is laid out a blueprint that gets us out of that box. It says we are going to toughen standards; we are going to get to that next level of protection. But even as we're doing that, we're going to get the resources on the ground that are needed for states and for the agricultural community to meet that challenge. And if there's ever a blueprint that could set the framework for a more protective Clean Water Act, this is certainly it because it marries up those two pieces.
Q Secretary Glickman, one of the initial criticisms of this package has been, according to some groups, it actually reduces the target for CRP acres for buffers -- from 7 million to 4 million.
SECRETARY GLICKMAN: No, not true -- not true.
Q And the second is that it puts off until well into the future the idea of requiring permits of large animal feed lots to 2005.
SECRETARY GLICKMAN: No. Perhaps you might want to talk about -- it's just not true. It does not do anything like that at all.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: We're engaged right now in the process, working with the Department of Agriculture and with others to design the standards, to set the standards for the large animal feeding operations. And nothing in this changes that commitment.
Q Thank you.
MR. TOIV: Any other questions on any other subjects?
Q Anything on executive privilege yet, Barry?
SECRETARY GLICKMAN: Well, we'll leave. (Laughter).
MR. TOIV: Short answer. I think the Counsel's Office has had something to say about that today, or will shortly, so you should check with them.
Q Are you going to assist us in getting whatever statement they make, or do we have to call them from here?
MR. TOIV: We'll see what we can do.
Q What is this fundraiser supposed to raise?
MR. TOIV: I think we handed out paper on that.
MR. TOIV: There is paper on this afternoon and tonight's fundraisers. I think we handed out this afternoon's. We'll get you tonight's as well.
Anything else? All right, thank you.
END 2:15 P.M. EST