THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY EPA ADMINISTRATOR CAROL BROWNER AND OMB ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR NATURAL RESOURCES ELGIE HOLSTEIN
The Briefing Room
3:07 P.M. EDT
MR. TOIV: Hello, everybody; sorry we're a little late. This briefing, first of all, is obviously on the record, but embargoed until 10:06 a.m., Saturday, when the President delivers his radio address. This is on the subject of the radio address, which is the environment.
Carol Browner, Adminstrator of EPA, is here to talk about the new rules that the President is going to announce in the radio address regarding clean water. And Elgie Holstein, who is the Associate Director of the Office of Management and Budget for Environment -- oh, I should know this -- for Natural Resources -- is going to talk a little bit about the cuts that are likely to take place if we pass the tax cut that the Republicans are proposing in the Congress. He will also talk about the FY 2000 appropriations bills and some of the serious problems in those bills, as well. That's a subject that the President addresses in the radio address, as well.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Good afternoon. When the Cuyahoga River, choking with pollution, caught fire back in 1969, our nation demanded action, and within a few years the Clean Water Act was passed by Congress. Because of that law, we have made remarkable progress in this country.
While rivers no longer burn, however, there are still pollution problems that we face in far too many of our rivers, lakes and beaches. Clearly, the job is not done. We must build on our successes, we must complete the task of cleaning our nation's waters.
The President in the radio address unveils a set of proposals, of actions that EPA will take in conjunction with the states to complete the work of cleaning our rivers, our lakes, our beaches. We unveil a detailed inventory of our nation's water quality.
Working with the states and territories, we have identified over 20,000 river segments, lakes and estuaries across America that are polluted. These are river segments, lakes and estuaries that do not meet national water quality standards. These waters include approximately 300,000 miles of rivers and shoreline and almost 5 million acres of lakes. They are polluted mostly by sedimentation, by nutrients and harmful microorganisms.
Clean water is fundamental to our health, the health of our environment and the health of our communities. More than 90 percent of the American population lives within 10 miles of one of these polluted bodies of water. EPA is proposing new water pollution reduction requirements to achieve cleaner waters for the people of this country. For each of the 20,000 polluted water bodies announced in the inventory today, the states will develop site-specific water pollution cleanup plans.
The proposals which we announced today were drawn up in consultation with an advisory committee made up of representatives of state and local governments, business and industry, farmers, sewage treatment plant operators and other concerned groups. Under this proposal the states will set what we call TMDLs, total maximum daily loads. These are numbers which will vary river by river, lake by lake. But these are the numbers that will tell everyone exactly how much pollution reduction is necessary for each of the water bodies listed in the inventory.
The states will work with concerned citizens, they will work with local industry, they will work with local government to craft these local cleanup plans. Recognizing that no two rivers, no two lakes are identical, this is not a one-size-fits-all proposal. Each of the solutions will be tailored to the needs of the individual river, lake or beach. Should a state fail to develop these cleanup plans, EPA will step in to ensure that all Americans, regardless of where they live can enjoy waters that are both fishable and swimmable.
In keeping with this Administration's commitment to common sense and cost-effective environmental solutions, this proposal includes a number of innovative approaches to pollution reduction, including, for example, pollution reduction trading programs, very similar to the acid rain emissions credit trading program. We would take that same type of tool and apply it to the individual water bodies, allowing communities and states to find the most cost effective water pollution reductions.
This administration has made delivering clean, safe water to the American people a priority, including proposing and the President signing into law the Safe Drinking Water Act amendments of 1996 and the Clean Water Action Plan that coordinates federal efforts to assist state and local governments with their water pollution clean up efforts.
This administration is committed to providing Americans with clean water because we believe that that allows our citizens to be healthy, our communities to be healthy -- from the Baltimore Harbor to the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Everglades, the San Francisco Bay, across the country communities are coming together to make the tough decisions to protect their water resources. With this proposal we will finally complete the job of cleaning up the most polluted rivers, lakes, streams and beaches.
Unfortunately, at the same time that the administration is continuing to move forward, too many in Congress would roll back the clock. Already, the EPA FY 2000 budget has two times as many special projects -- special funding projects, special deals -- two times as many as we had at the same point in the process last year.
These result in cuts for important programs, air programs, climate change and other activities at EPA. Further down the road, when we look at the effect of the tax cut proposal put forward by the Republican leadership, the magnitude of the cut in domestic programs that would be necessary because of that tax cut, the 50 percent cut, a cut of that level to EPA would dramatically reduce, it would devastate our ability to run each and every one of the environmental programs that are critical to clean air, clean water, clean land and healthy communities.
With that, let me ask Elgie to speak to some of the specific examples.
MR. HOLSTEIN: I'm, again, Elgie Holstein, Associate Director of OMB for Natural Resources. I think it is particularly disheartening as we head into the heart of the summer family vacation time that we are doing so in the midst of another congressional, ham-fisted attack on the environment, on clean water, on clean air and on, frankly, the public health and safety with not only the cuts that they're proposing in the FY 2000 budget, but beyond that the cuts that would be brought about if this irresponsible tax credit were to be enacted. And I want to give you a few examples of that in just a moment.
Let me start, though, by giving you just an idea of what we're already seeing in the 2000 budget by way of cuts. EPA's operating budget being cut $200 million from the President's request in the House-passed bill. Our very innovative proposal for the clean air partnership fund, which would bring together multiple parties and state and local governments in an effort to reduce a variety of pollutants, has received no funding so far. And while Americans are getting increasingly concerned, along with our scientific community, about what's happening with our climate, we're seeing huge reductions in our climate change initiative -- $330 million cut from the President's request out of $1.4 billion in his original budget.
And, unfortunately, so many of these cuts are in areas that we have traditionally had bipartisan consensus with the Congress, these were win-win things, things that would reduce our use of imported oil, things that would reduce pollution but also bring us to a point where we would be able to develop those new technologies that would reduce greenhouse gases for years and years to come.
Particularly distressing in the summer vacation period is that with our national parks overflowing with the American public showing greater and greater interest in going to parks and exploring the green spaces and great places in America that we're seeing these huge cuts in the President's proposed billion dollar lands legacy proposal.
A two-thirds cut from the President's request in the lands legacy program will basically mean not only that we won't be able to move forward and aggressively protect those areas that are under such tremendous development pressures now, but we won't be able to respond to the governors of both parties who over the last several years have been leading their states in enacting courageous bond issues in Maryland and New Jersey and elsewhere that would set aside large areas of open space and that would work together with us through the lands legacy program to preserve those spaces for future generations.
Compounding that problem, of course, is once again -- just unfortunately as we have seen over the last several years -- the Congress has seen fit to load up the spending bills with a variety of environmental rider bills. I can't go through all of them because the list is much too long. But just to give you a couple of specifics, on wetlands, just as we in the course of this administration -- particularly under the leadership of Administrator Browner -- have been finding ways to speed the permitting process, to rationalize and right size our approach to the wetlands process, we find that, paradoxically enough, the Congress is inserting new ways to slow the process down.
One example in the environmental riders category is a rider that would make it possible for developers in the early stages of the permit process to haul the government into federal court and drag out the wetlands permitting process for years, thereby giving an opportunity to develop these properties and keep the bulldozers moving forward.
Mining wastes, we're seeing again a battle unfold in the Congress over a rider that would let these huge mining companies, many of them foreign owned, come in and make a virtual moonscape out of some of our great lands, as Senator Durbin suggested, and not hold those mining companies to the most basic standards, standards that are already in the law about how much they have to pay for the property on which they put those mining wastes -- which, as you know, are basically the size of mountains themselves, these big slag heaps.
Climate change over a period of time, we have seen the scientific evidence getting stronger and stronger and, yet, the Congress responds with ever more restrictive riders that would prevent us from moving forward even with voluntary actions to encourage actions by foreign governments, as well as by U.S. corporations and other stakeholders, in helping us reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases.
And, lastly, a final example would be for the fourth time in a row we are seeing a rider that would prevent the American public from getting its fair market value for the oil leases for oil drilling on public lands. And I just don't know how we can possibly justify that.
Looking over the long term, the greatest threat to the environmental programs really is one that is facing us right in the face today with this potential huge tax cut that would between now and the year 2009 wipe out virtually our entire ability to respond to the environmental crises of today and tomorrow. Specifically, through the operation of the tax cut we would expect by the year 2009 to see basically a 50 percent cut from the baseline in what we would otherwise be able to spend on these programs. And I just want to give you a couple of very specific examples of what that would mean.
In the case of, again, talking about our parks, our National Park Service's operating budget -- again, I'm talking about 2009, now -- would be cut by $975 million below the baseline for that year. What would that mean? It would mean park rangers being laid off, it would mean RIFs, it would mean closures of parks. Virtually all 378 of our park units would be affected, which serve some 300 million visitors a year.
Fish and Wildlife Service would be cut by $485 million below the FY 2009 baseline, and that would mean a 65 percent cut from the baseline funding. In a couple of other areas I think worth mentioning, the drinking water -- and I think that's particularly on American's minds today with the drought that we're having. And in the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a program which helps deliver safe drinking water, clean drinking water to some 240 million Americans through these community drinking water systems, we would see a reduction of over $400 million in funding by the year 2009, making it that much more difficult for Americans to have safe, secure, reliable sources of clean drinking water.
And, lastly, let me mention our partners in these environmental endeavors, the state and local governments and the tribal governments, where we would see a $500 million cut in grants to those entities. These are the dollars that they use to implement both their own and the federal environmental programs that helps them meet the national and state clean air targets, that helps them keep the water clean for their citizens and helps maintain a clean environment, cleaning up toxic waste and preventing the deposition of new chemical pollutants.
In specific terms for EPA, by 2009, as a result of this kind of tax cut we would see, and I'm being very specific here, over 8,000 fewer inspections of environment-related health and safety operations with some 1,600 fewer enforcement actions taken against polluters.
I think that in an era where we are increasingly sensitive to our environmental concerns, and where I hope we have finally laid to rest the suggestion that environmental cleanliness is somehow at war with economic growth; it's a sad day when we're having to fight these battles -- once again, battles that would roll back virtually 20 years of non-stop improvement in our environment. Let me stop right there.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: We're happy to answer any questions.
Q One of the things that we hear most about water pollution nowadays is runoff from chicken farms, pig parlors and agricultural fertilizer running into the water. Do these new measures deal with that and how?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Absolutely. Probably the greatest water pollution challenge we face today is both urban and agricultural runoff. If you think about the work we have done over the last 27 years to reduce water pollution, much of it has been focused on sewer plants and their discharges, a large, industrial facilities. And we've made a lot of progress because of that focus. Now we have to turn our sights to this polluted runoff.
By developing this inventory of the 20,000 most polluted rivers, lakes and streams, it gives us the direction, the map, in terms of which water bodies will we need specific cleanup plans for. So, for example, in the Chesapeake Bay, a lot of the work will focus on agricultural runoff. In other parts of the country it will focus on perhaps more urban runoff. And in some places it may require even additional reductions in industrial discharges. But the most common problems we see today in terms of ongoing water pollution challenges are associated with polluted runoff, both agricultural and urban.
Q Are there parts of the country that are worse than others?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, what we do, what we are releasing is a map for every single state that will show the studies that they did, it shows what they think are their most polluted, their most impacted water bodies, and it really shows you where they are going to be focusing their efforts in terms of developing these plans.
Now, remember, for each of these water bodies there will be a specific clean up plan that will look at everything from agricultural runoff to urban runoff to industrial discharges, and then they will make a decision within those categories where you need to get more pollution reductions -- what do you need to do to actually get this specific water body to meet the water quality standards. And the standard is essentially fishable and swimmable. This is the last chapter in how we get to fishable, swimmable waters for the people of this country.
Q You say that if the states don't, the fed will step in. What will you do?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Yes. We would write the plans and we would essentially take over the process, we would work with the local communities, with the local businesses, with the local farmers to develop the site specific plans and then to implement those plans.
Q A couple of things. One is, what's the estimated cost of this program and when do we expect to see -- is this a new proposal that's going to be in the Federal Register? When is it going to be in the Register, how long is the --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Yes. Today? It takes us four days from when I sign it; so, effectively, next week.
Q And how long is it open for comment?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: It's open for comment for 60 days. As I said earlier, we did engage in a very broad dialogue process in terms of formulating the proposal. We had one of these deadly government acronyms, we had a FACA committee, we had a federal advisory committee. What that means is we got real people in the room and we talked about how best to go about doing this.
We would hope to finalize this, obviously, by the end of the year. What this then does is give the states the guidance and the parameters they need to do the work.
Now, some of this work is already underway. We are already working with a number of states who are developing site specific plans. But what this does is it really gives them the real guidance and the direction in terms of what is expected to be in each of those plans, the process. In terms of their reductions for some of the more polluted waterways, we would hope to see final plans in as soon as two to three years and then implementation.
Now, remember, this is different than simply setting a water pollution standard for every industrial pipe that discharges. That's the national standard programs. This goes in and looks at that local water body, looks at the Potomac, looks at the Anacostia and says, what is necessary for the Anacostia, specifically for the Anacostia, what are the steps you need to take now to finish this job and to ultimately make it fishable and swimmable.
Q Estimated cost?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: We estimate that in terms of developing the plans and beginning the implementation of plans, something on the order of $1 to $2 million per state. Now, when you complete the process in terms of the plans, the actual pollution reduction costs will vary depending on the choices the community makes. But we did, as I said earlier, include in this a number -- and the Vice President has really been at the forefront of this -- the cost effect of the common sense type solutions that we are increasingly looking to in terms of addressing pollution problems.
So, for example, the acid rain program where we allow emissions credit trading, we're suggesting to the states, use a credit trading program. If you've got four sources of a particular pollutant, you need a 20 percent reduction, maybe you should trade across and maybe one source can make a more cost effective reduction than another source, really allowing each of the plants to look at where is the most cost effective pollution reduction.
Q Currently speaking, obviously it is going to vary from place to place.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Absolutely.
Q And sometimes even within an individual state --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: The Mississippi, for example, I mean just from pieces of the Mississippi to another piece will vary.
Q What are the costs for business, though? Are they going to bear the brunt of this or is it going to be private citizens?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: I think that's very hard to answer because, again, we have provided the states with the flexibility to make site-by-site decisions to determine where the most cost effective solutions -- this is not a one-size-fits-all answer. We have sort of done and gotten what we can from the one-size-fits-all approach to water pollution. That's been all of the technologies to reduce, you know, raw sewage discharge, to reduce industrial toxic discharges. Now we're moving into this final phase which really is site specific. And so, for example, Maryland might make one set of decisions in terms of the Chesapeake Bay and Florida might make another set of decisions in terms of the Everglades. It allows for those different decisions. And in terms of the cost share, that will be up to the individual states to make those decision.
Q What kind of feedback or input have you had from Congress on this?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: In the FACA process -- we don't usually have members of Congress on a FACA. Obviously, we keep our appropriators and our committees of jurisdiction involved. This requirement has been in the Clean Water Act for some time, but our focus has been on these more obvious sources of pollution, and it's only as we've been able to address the more obvious sources of water pollution that we've been able to turn our efforts to these -- sometimes much more complex, again because they will require site-by-site, river-by-river answers.
Q Is it correct to say that the current approach has been to regulate pipe-by-pipe and polluter-by-polluter with a standard for each pipe -- and what you're now proposing to do, somewhat like air, is to look at the air and then figure out how much each contributor has to cut and therefore that the existing rules on how much you can emit from a single pipe are going to change?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: They may, they may not. Again, it would be up to the state to make that decision. So, for example, you might -- what would be a good example -- in the Great Lakes one of the challenges there will be, for example, some of the industrial sources, they may want to look to greater reductions in industrial sources, but in the Chesapeake Bay it might be more focused on polluted runoff.
So it will depend on the nature of the challenge, of the pollution challenge.
Q I still don't understand. I might run a factory and I might have cleaned up the output to a level that satisfied the EPA last year or five years ago, and then you're going to come along and you're going to look at the river that my pipe goes into and you're going to say, there are six factories here and between you, even if you all meet the existing standard pipe-by-pipe, you're going to have to cut X pollutant by X percent.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Yes, that is a possibility. That is correct. And that will be up to the state. The state would make that decision.
Q Could you give an example of what -- in air you can trade sulfur dioxide, you can trade nitrogen oxides. What kind of pollutants would be --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Nutrients, for example, you might have 20 different sources of nutrients into the segment of a river that is a subject of a site-specific plan. And so what you would do is you would set a cap, very similar to the air trading programs. You would say the total allowable amount of nutrients in this river to make it healthy is "X," and that represents a hundred ton reduction. And then you would say to all of the discharges of nutrients, you know, which one of you can do it most cost effectively, and if you can't get enough then you can trade against someone who can do it more cost effectively.
There are, just so you know, already model programs allowing for water pollution credit, trading -- we worked, for example, was it in North Carolina, to develop these programs and we're starting to see the real benefits in the same way that we've seen the benefits in air programs.
Obviously, you can't apply them on a national basis because water pollution doesn't perform in the same way that air pollution performs, but you can certainly apply them on regional basis and we think with a great deal of success.
Q Would there be needs for new enforcement mechanisms? People that discharge nutrients, for example, they might not have any kind of permit at all at the moment. And who would set up the enforcement? Would the states enforce?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: The states would do that. Again, this is up to the states to decide within a particular river or a particular lake how much more pollution reduction is necessary to meet water quality standards, and then what's the most cost effective way to get those pollution reductions. So it will be up to the state. And they will literally be doing this and we'll be doing it with them site by site.
The good news here is that we've made so much progress in water pollution that we're now down to this site-specific approach. I think that the challenge is working through each of these places, we've got 20,000 places in this inventory that plans are going to be developed for and then implemented to achieve the reductions.
Q So under the Clean Water Act they have authority to tell specific nutrient polluters to stop doing that?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Yes.
Q Or would they have to pass a state statute that would block them from --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Most of the states would have existing authority, some of them might have to make some adjustments in their authority -- but most of the states have essentially picked up the broad authorities in the Federal Clean Water Act and are using them today. And they would be able to use them. Most of them have permitting programs that they would look to. What's important about this proposal is working with the states to develop these site-specific plans. As they develop them they will then move back into using the tools that they have used traditionally.
Q At what point does the federal government step in? I mean, you said if basically the states drop the ball the feds will take over. But is that after the two to three --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: This is an interesting question, because we were trying to figure out how to give you guys a simple answer to this today. And you know what, well there isn't because different places will be -- different rivers, different lakes will move into the process at different times.
Q But is there standard in terms of the state, how the state acts? Do you know what I mean? Not necessarily --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Yes. I think that the truth of the matter is, in something like this, you know, if you have states who are out there working aggressively, bringing the groups together, writing the plans, publishing the plans, making significant progress, then that would be a situation where we wouldn't come in.
If you had a state who just simply never bothered to do anything, then we would step in.
Any other questions? Thank you.
END 3:30 P.M. EDT