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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                           (Atlanta, Georgia)
For Immediate Release                                   October 30, 1999
                              TO THE NATION

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Two weeks ago, I reaffirmed our nation's commitment to environmental protection, and announced our plan to protect more than 40 million acres of roadless area in our national forests. Today, I'm announcing new actions we're taking to protect our air, our water, and some of our most precious lands.

One of the simplest but most potent tools in our fight against pollution is public information. By requiring industries to tell communities how much they pollute the air and water, we empower citizens to fight back, and create a powerful incentive for industry to pollute less. Remarkably, in the decades since the public's right to know about chemical releases became the law of the land, industry's toxic pollution has fallen nearly 50 percent.

Today, my administration is again expanding the public's right to know. We're acting to protect families against some of the most dangerous chemicals ever known -- including mercury, dioxin and PCBs. These chemicals are troubling for two reasons. First, they don't break down easily; instead they build up in the environment, and in our bodies. Second, many of them heighten the risk of cancer or other illness, even at very low doses.

Right now, companies are required to disclose their uses of these chemicals only if they handle huge quantities. Beginning January 1st, we'll require companies to inform the public even if they're using much smaller quantities -- in some cases, just ten pounds a year. In the case of dioxin, a chemical that can cause harm even in minute quantities, companies must report if they produce as little as a tenth of a gram.

By posting this information for all to see, we can speed the day when families no longer need worry about hidden dangers in the air they breathe and the water they drink.

As we step up our fight against pollution, we must work as well to preserve lands across America that are still pristine. Today, I'm announcing a new effort to protect the incomparable California desert, so future generations can enjoy it in all its splendor. Five years ago I signed the California Desert Act, preserving millions of acres of stark but fragile landscape, rich with history and precious wildlife.

Today, to mark the anniversary, the non-profit Wildlands Conservancy is donating to the federal government an additional 14,000 acres within the Joshua Tree National Park -- lands that otherwise might be developed. It's through partnerships like this that we can protect vital pieces of our national endowment.

We have also just completed our agreement to preserve New Mexico's spectacular Baca Ranch, home to one of the largest herds of wild elk anywhere in the world. I'm working closely with Congress to secure the funding to complete this purchase so that we can preserve this extraordinary land for all time.

In my balanced budget for this year, I proposed a $1 billion Lands Legacy Initiative to preserve other natural treasures, and to help communities protect local green spaces. Regrettably, Congress has failed to provide even half the necessary funding.

And even more troubling, the Interior bill that Congress has produced once again is laden with provisions that would benefit special interests at the expense of our public interest and our environment. One of these provisions would allow excessive logging on our national forests. Another would let mining companies dump more toxic wastes on public lands. A third would grant a windfall to major companies that produce oil on federal lands.

This makes no sense. Today, while I'm taking action to protect communities against toxic chemicals, Congress is giving special interests license to pollute our public lands. While I'm taking action to save some of our most treasured places, Congress is putting other precious lands at greater risk.

So let me be clear: if Congress sends me this Interior bill, I'll veto it. Again, I urge Congress to work with me on a better bill that is unburdened by these anti-environmental provisions, and that has adequate funding to protect our natural landscape through the Lands Legacy Initiative.

All through this century, since Theodore Roosevelt set us on the path of conservation, Americans have worked together across party lines to protect public health, and restore and protect our environment. As we begin the new millennium, let our gift to the future be a new effort, together across party lines, to clean our air, to ensure safe water, and to preserve healthy, thriving lands.

Thanks for listening.