THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Raleigh, North Carolina) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release July 30, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY DAYTON DUNCAN, CHAIRMAN OF THE AMERICAN HERITAGE RIVERS INITIATIVE ADVISORY COMMITTEE AND ELLIOT DIRINGER, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS FOR THE PRESIDENT'S COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
Aboard Air Force One En Route to Ashe County, North Carolina
10:08 A.M. EDT
MR. DUNCAN: Hi. My name is Dayton Duncan and I was, for reasons not entirely clear to myself, chosen by the President to be the Chair of the Advisory Committee that went through the 126 nominations from local communities to be designated as American Heritage Rivers -- and recommended 10 -- after three days of meetings, recommended 10 to the President.
People here who are more involved with the start of the initiative can speak more about it than I can. But basically the initiative is an effort to both tap into local efforts at reconnecting communities to both their rivers that run through them -- both for economic revitalization, tapping into the cultural and historical links that they have with the rivers and protecting and preserving the natural resources of the rivers for future generations.
And the advisory committee was put together of roughly 14 people from different walks of life and different parts of the country to recommend to the President which ones to designate.
I just want to say on behalf of the committee that I chaired, one thing that struck is that we thought that the initiative already is a success, even before the President designated any rivers. They got 126 nominations from around the country.
Q What four did the President add?
MR. DUNCAN: I'll tell you that. But anyway, it's a demonstration, we thought, of a lot of grassroots efforts across the country, of communities that want to take back their rivers, who want to reconnect themselves to the rivers that go through them. And it also represented -- the initiative itself represented, in our minds, a new model of how the federal government relates to local communities and grassroots organizations. In other words, they weren't telling them what to do, they were soliciting ideas from the local communities, from grassroots organizations.
And the result -- the 126 nominations were the results of hundreds of thousands of volunteers putting together proposals asking to be designated as American Heritage River. That success made our job that much harder because we were asked to recommend to the President 10 to 20 rivers. And also part of that was to have a diversity of different types of rivers, a diversity geographically, a diversity in terms of what kind of proposals were being made and all that.
And because there were so many great nominations, making recommendations to the President were that much harder. We recommended 10 to the President -- there were a lot more recommendations, but we -- (inaudible) -- handle more than 10, but there certainly were more than 10 that were worthy of designation, and encouraged him to add to our list, which he did. You've got the list of the rivers, right?
Q Did you recommend the other four. Were the other four additions you recommended?
MR. DUNCAN: Well, we only recommended 10 and then as part of our report to him we said, Mr. President, there's a lot more than 10 American Heritage Rivers here; if you want to add to them, we'd certainly encourage you to do it and enthusiastically support it.
The four that he added were the Cuyahoga; the Blackstone-Woonasquatucket, which is in, basically, Rhode Island; the Upper Susquehanna in Pennsylvania; and the Lower Mississippi, the Memphis and New Orleans sections of that. We specifically had recommended -- we specifically, our committee wanted him to name all of the Mississippi proposals. It was our belief that the Mississippi is so central to the nation's history, to its culture, to its geography that we thought it would be a great idea for him to do all of the nominations for the Mississippi. And we're very happy they did that.
The others were among, I would say, the top tier of other proposals in our mind. And we did a very -- we tried to use a consensus method of coming to our conclusion so we didn't have so many necessarily formal votes. But all of the others --the Cuyahoga, the Upper Susquehanna, the Blackstone -- were always ones that different members of the committee were always in favor of.
So we're very happy that he -- first of all, he didn't have to choose the 10 that we recommended. We took the fact that we were advisory very seriously and that the ultimate decision was his. But we're very gratified that he selected the 10 that we nominated to him and added to them.
Q When do you choose the next batch?
MR. DUNCAN: That would be something they would have to -- we were just -- our committee was named, you know, simply to handle this first round. And we did recommend to the President, in addition to the rivers we've made some other recommendations, including that he ought to add to the 10.
But one of them is that they ought to find a way to encourage all of the 116 or 112 that aren't designated, find ways to keep those activities going. We encouraged him to also -- that based on what we view as the success of the initiative already, that he do a second round at some point. But that's a decision that he would have to make.
Q So, Duncan, did he add four and extend the Mississippi, is that what he did?
MR. DUNCAN: I would say --
Q You gave us five rivers.
MR. DUNCAN: No, one's the Blackstone-Woonasquatucket, is one thing.
Q And, also, you were asked to come up with 20 rivers; you came up with 10. Why?
MR. DUNCAN: We were asked to come up with 10 to 20.
Q Why did you not give him 20 or 14, and what did he base his recommendation of adding these other four on?
MR. DUNCAN: We were asked to recommend 10 to 20. What we decided as a committee is that we should go through the same process that the President would go through, in essence, of making the harder -- you know, trying to make these hard choices of 10 rivers to recommend. And our belief was if we started expanding on that you almost had to go to 20, and if you went to 20 there's probably 30 that you could do.
So we just decided as a committee to say, Mr. President, these are the 10 that we, as a committee, would recommend to you; each one of them is a very good proposal and additionally as a mix they represent the diversity of American rivers. And we just kept it at that -- additionally recommending to him that there were more than 10 great proposals there and urging him, in essence, to select more than 10 if they thought that they could do that administratively once -- now that they're designated and the real work begins, if they could do it administratively.
MR. DIRINGER: If I could address one of the earlier questions, there's been no decision yet at this point on whether there will be another round. We're going to monitor the program and its success and there will be a determination at a later date as to whether we will actually invite more nominations and make more designations in the future.
And as Duncan said, we are going to try to work with the other communities that did submit nominations. There will be a symposium held in Atlanta in October, where all the communities that submitted nominations can come together, share their experiences and their lessons and hopefully learn things that they can then go back and use in their own communities. In addition, we will be making information available to each of those communities that can assist them in their own efforts -- information specific to their regions and their rivers.
Q What do these rivers get? They don't get any new money, they don't get any extra regulation, they only get a facilitator who helps them tap into existing regulations and existing money?
MR. DIRINGER: What they get primarily is a river navigator, who is an individual who will be designated. This is a federal employee who will serve as a liaison with the community and serve in that role for up to five years. And this person will serve as an ombudsman, really, who can help the community refine their plans and strategies and then help them identify resources, existing federal resources and programs that they can then take advantage of in carrying out their plans.
Q No new money, no new environmental regulation -- just this navigator?
MR. DIRINGER: No new money and no regulation, that's true. But through the navigator we will be able to refocus existing programs to assist these communities in carrying out their plans.
MR. DUNCAN: On that -- can I make two points on that? One is, I think what is interesting about this initiative is that there aren't going to be any new regulations. There's not going to be any land takings; that basically it is listening to the local communities and the local organizations who are struggling to try to reinvigorate their relationship with the rivers. And it's just there to help them tap into programs that already exist. So I think that's actually one of the strengths of the initiative.
More importantly is just the simple fact of the designation is such a big deal to many of them. And what really impressed us as committee members -- and made our job that much harder -- was the enthusiasm that so many groups had as they put their proposals together. There were some proposals where parts of a river had never talked to the lower parts of rivers before, and the fact of putting the proposal together brought them together to think in terms of a whole watershed.
Or certain places had already had some programs going, talking to others that didn't. Because they're just excited about the notion that they can now say, the New River is an American Heritage River. That very fact, that sort of presidential seal of approval, should not be minimized. I think that's an important thing to many of them. And, believe me, we had large -- we did not accept public testimony, we had written testimony. But we had large crowds at our deliberations that just wanted to listen in, mainly because they were hoping that their river would get designated.
Q Can you address the criticism that Chenoweth and others in Congress have made, that this is really a land grab; and that some of your paper that you've handed out today talks about how the governments in these communities really want to build parks and take various lands and put them into more public use. How do you address her and also their suit against the program?
MR. DUNCAN: Well, she came and talked briefly to the members of our committee. The executive order that set this up specifically addresses this. In my mind it's odd that these complaints have arisen, because the very things that they're talking about are specifically addressed in the executive order -- that there is not any infringement on property rights. (Inaudible) -- live in Washington dictating to local communities and sort of taking over things. It's tapping into the local grassroots -- (inaudible) -- that she and others would want to support.
But I think the biggest thing that we write in our report is that we think a year or two from now, after these first 10 now, have experience under the belt that the success of their programs will be much more than any words written in the federal register to allay -- (inaudible).
And go and visit the New River a year or two years now -- and there hasn't been all these, you know, all these fears that have been raised by the opponents of the initiative. And they have been proved foundless by experience. That will do much more than just promising that it won't.
Q Wait a minute, one more on this. Did it disappoint you --
MR. DIRINGER: I just want to elaborate --
Q Well, I'd like to get one in, because I'd like to have him on the record on this. Did their concerns that they had a problem with what the federal government did disappoint you in that you had to eliminate so many rivers because of congressional opposition? Did it disappoint you that many of the rivers that you would have wanted to stick on weren't able to?
MR. DUNCAN: And we mentioned this in our report to the President -- that a number of what we thought would have been very worthy and perhaps likely candidates for designation were removed from consideration because of congressional opposition. I think it is very likely that we would -- (inaudible).
Q The Puyallup, could you spell it for those of us who are going to have to transcribe it?
MR. DUNCAN: It's P-u-y-a-l-l-u-p. And it took me two meetings to learn how to pronounce it.
MR. DIRINGER: The number that were actually removed from consideration was rather limited. I mean, it was roughly a dozen of the 126 nominations that drew objections and another dozen portions of the nominations drew objections. So I think it's important to bear in mind that the number of nominations was 126 and the level of support that we heard from Congress actually far outweighed the opposition. We had more than 200 members of Congress writing in support of this initiative, outnumbering the letters of opposition by more than four to one.
We also had more than 500 mayors across the country, 21 governors, all expressing support for this initiative. And I think it's also important to recognize the bipartisan nature of that support.
Q -- in the middle of the country that's without a river?
MR. DUNCAN: The place without -- (inaudible) --
MR. DIRINGER: -- I think it's important, remember, this is entirely community-driven. The nominations --participation is entirely voluntary. (Inaudible) -- if for some reason one of the communities along a designated river chooses to not participate, they can withdraw at any time. There's nothing about this that is being foisted upon them, this is strictly upon their initiative and we are -- (inaudible).
We're talking about loans and grants for economic development or for small businesses; pollution clean-up funds. It could be help mapping their rivers from USGS. There's just, you know, dozens and dozens of programs that really can be of value to these communities.
I mentioned the bipartisan support for this program. And I think the President today will take the opportunity in that spirit to remind Congress of some of our other environmental priorities and call upon Congress to join us in seeing through those priorities, instead of trying to roll back some of the protections we already have in place.
He'll speak about the Land and Water Conservation Fund. There's been money appropriated in the '98 budget that we would like to use to acquire 100 natural and historic sites in 35 states. The list has been up on the Hill since February and Congress has yet to release those funds. The President will be calling on them again to release those funds. Some of those sites, for instance, would allow us to complete the Appalachian Trail, the longest footpath in the United States; acquire some critical winter range for bison and other wildlife at Yellowstone; acquire the Baca Ranch in New Mexico, which the President spoke about just a couple of days ago.
Q Well, too, isn't it that you guys didn't deliver the information to them on time? I mean, you're blaming them for delaying it --
MR. DIRINGER: -- information up there since February, it was completely in keeping with the legislation. And we've been waiting to hear back from them on that.
The President is also going to speak to the Clean Water Action Plan, which is a plan that he announced in February. This is all obviously in the context of the appropriation measures written before Congress right now. So we're talking on the one had about appropriations that are falling short of our requests and also some riders that they've been attaching to these bills. This seems to be the latest strategy by some on the Hill to basically undo protections that are already in place. Having failed to do that with a frontal assault, they're now trying to do kind of through the back door with these riders.
The Senate interior bill, for instance, is loaded with riders that, among other things, would carve a road through a wilderness area in Alaska. That would be an unprecedented action, the first road through a federal wilderness area. Another rider would preclude us from going ahead with new rules to require fair market royalties on oil and gas development on federal lands. This costs the Treasury $5 million a month, $60 million a year.
There is also a rider on the VA-HUD appropriations bill that would make it difficult for us to go ahead with some of the common sense efforts we have to reduce greenhouse gas pollution that contributes to global warming. These are energy efficiency programs, renewable energy programs -- things that have enjoyed bipartisan support for a number of years. Not only are they failing to fully fund the President's proposed increase, in some cases they're actually trying to cut from existing programs.
On appropriations, there is the Clean Water Action Plan. We've requested an increase of about $500 million for next year. At this point they're only providing about half of that. On climate change, also a requested increase of about $500 million for the coming year, which is part of a $6.3 billion program over five years, to provide research and tax incentives. And again the appropriations measures provide only about half the proposed increase for the coming year.
Q Have you fished the New River?
MR. DUNCAN: No, I'm looking forward to -- I've never been to the New River. I'm excited to see it.
Q We should have brought our poles, we should have had a half a day there. (Laughter.)
Q Why are the Missouri and the Columbia not on the -- taken out or is that --
MR. DUNCAN: Well, the Missouri, there was a nomination for the entire Missouri, but because of the congressional opposition in Montana that section of it was therefore removed from our consideration and that sort of -- and the same thing with part of the Columbia happened. I think my bias toward Lewis and Clark probably would have come to the fore had they not been that way.
Q Thank you.
END 10:30 A.M. EDT