It is a great pleasure to join you here today. I welcome the opportunity to speak to you about the environment in general, and the American Heritage Rivers initiative in particular.
But before turning to that, there are some other reasons I wanted to come that I want to share with you today. Your invitation was important to me because: 1) I respect your opinion; I value your many, collective years of experience and the very important wisdom that comes from that. 2) I believe that some of the concerns you have raised and that this group -- along with others -- was formed to articulate deserve considered, respectful hearing. While I often have not agreed -- or at least not agreed fully -- with some of the solutions you propose, I, too, have recognized problems and believe, therefore, that if we talk to one another, it may be that we can find some common ground between us. 3) I honor the fact that you are engaged citizens - taking your own personal time to be informed; to organize; to make a difference. This country was built on the basis of an active, informed citizenry and I believe the quality of her future depends on our instilling, once again, that sense of commitment and engagement among our fellow citizens. I honor your effort and the personal sacrifice that it represents because it is a model to all our citizens of how they, too, need to give of themselves and be engaged. Now let me be clear. Again, there are very real differences between us and I dont intend here to gloss them over. In fact I dont believe we can make progress unless we are honest about our differences. While I wholeheartedly believe, for example, that government cannot be looked to to solve all our problems -- and indeed, I believe that very idea is dangerous because it leads to the very antithesis of what I honor you for -- far from an active, engaged citizenry, it leads to an atrophied, apathetic citizenry. However, I am not prepared, if you will, completely to rely on the "kindness of strangers." Government is our compact with one another, and an expression of our enforceable commitment to act in a decent, respectful way one to another. Government is essential. Having said that, again I believe that the differences between us need not always be seen as insurmountable. They may be differences of degree that, if we engage in respectful dialogue, can yield to some common ground.
Finally, I wanted to come here because I believe we have an obligation to listen to one another. That we as committed citizens, have an obligation to try to "work it out" and thereby to work to ensure the greater good of the country as a whole. We have enough examples -- Bosnia, Northern Ireland, etc. -- of what happens when people do not work it out. And make no mistake: such huge strife starts when the smaller grievances go unaddressed and are allowed to fester. We can not allow that to happen to this great land; we can not allow resentments to build that ultimately could really tear us apart.
So thank you for having me here, for taking time to listen. With questions and answers today, I look forward to doing the same: to listening respectfully as well and answering with as much detail and candor as I can.
Let me turn now more specifically to the environment and to the American Heritage Rivers Initiative in particular. Id like to start by painting a broader picture and placing the American Heritage Rivers Initiative in the context of the different kind of environmental policy weve worked to build over the last four and a half years.
Where do I start? Well, with the statute that set my office up and that I am now charged with implementing: the National Environmental Policy Act.
You may not know it, but I have a very enviable job. My office is set up under NEPA -- the nations first and comprehensive environmental policy statute.
Easy you might think -- my job is to protect the environment. Right?
Not quite. Twenty-eight years ago, NEPAs authors had a much more sophisticated understanding. And they were much more poetic in writing legislation. They said its my job, not just to protect the environment, but to achieve "productive harmony" among our environmental, economic and social objectives.
This is indeed a very enviable job in Washington, D.C. -- where people like to work it out; get along . . . !
The vision is challenging -- But I believe it is exactly right.
Why? Because somehow over the years we have lost our way on the environment. Recently, I spoke to the criminal division of the American Bar Association. I said to them that I wanted to report a felony -- that the environment, I thought, had been stolen. What did I mean??
You know -- despite our many differences -- different ethic backgrounds; different life histories; different interests; different faiths -- there are some things that really do pull us Americans -- all 260 some odd million of us -- together as a nation. One of the most vital binding forces is the environment.
America the Beautiful: "Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesty, above the fruited plain." Not just a nice song. This song has survived the decades because it stirs a passion in us all. Because it speaks to an important truth: to that incredibly rich and deep connection we have to this great land. The pride and the blessing we feel in her abundance. The connection we all feel to our environment. But, what have we made of this powerful binding force?? Well, unfortunately and all too often, weve made of it a source of polarization, litigation, and disputes. Weve allowed it to be lost. To be stolen.
Far from the talk of country, heritage, humility and gratitude for the blessings of our environment -- our discourse about the environment has often become discord: endless hassles about the minutia -- how many ppm of this; how many ppb of that. What kind of scrubber? What kind of filter? When it comes to natural resources, the talk is of "train wrecks" -- spotted owls vs. loggers, and the refrain we hear too often -- "you have to choose -- it is either jobs or the environment."
Who stole the environment? Who let the conversation degrade so far?
Where is that connection and pride we feel to this great land?
Well NEPA -- 28 years ago -- said no to this narrow, polarizing thinking that seems to seize us today. It held the environment up as a binding force. As a lens through which we could bring clarity to our overall social, economic, cultural, historic values. It held the environment up as a particularly vital thread in our social fabric that can help pull us together and see beyond our own selfish and immediate needs to the needs of the country as a whole and generations to come. NEPA says you cant pit the environment against the economy. Rather -- you must bring it all together in one coherent, integral whole.
NEPA says enough of the trench warfare. We can and we must achieve stewardship of the land and economic opportunity and hope for our communities together. Both/and. NOT either/or.
Importantly, NEPA understands that, to get there, it can not all come from Washington, D.C. Rather, NEPA insists that Federal agencies open the doors. And that citizens and state and local governments be given a very real and meaningful seat at the table.
I take this charge very seriously. And in the last four and a half years, weve tried to honor this charge in the environmental work weve done. Let me discuss some of our flagship efforts, because it is on that foundation that the American Heritage Rivers Initiative was built.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA). It has often meant crisis and confrontation in the past. But weve taken a different approach. Weve reached out in partnership to landowners and state and local groups across the country to forge Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP). Through these plans, were protecting critical habitat. With the nearly 400 HCPs completed or underway, some 18 million acres will be sustainably managed. But the landowner secures something that is critically important, too: certainty. Weve said to landowners "a deal is a deal", and, when an HCP is concluded, there will be "no surprises" -- no ESA train wrecks just around the corner. Instead, if they implement the HCP, theyve got a guarantee that their ESA obligations are met. For fifty, 75, 100 years or more.
Right here in Washington State, Ive signed HCPs that afford landowners a century of certainty.
And, we've forged partnerships with the states as well. Washington State, for example, has a 75 year guarantee that an HCP for state forest lands gets the ESA job done. That means fewer court battles, that means more certain timber plans; that means more money for countries and schools. And all of this while weve ensured that the environment is protected, too.
In Oregon also weve reached a truly historic partnership. The timber industry is at the heart of it. The industry will take the lead in protecting key watersheds for coho salmon. On the basis of that leadership and commitment, weve said, thats good enough for us. We dont need to reinvent the wheel. Weve got confidence that the industrys plan can get the restoration job done.
When it comes to air, and water pollution regulations, we are making major changes too. To take one example, weve launched something called Project XL.
Project XL is based on a simple concept: industry kept saying, we can get cleaner and cheaper if youll just let us figure out how to get there. So, we took them up on it. XL says, if your willing to go above and beyond law, well put the rule book aside. We wont micro-manage. We wont dictate the details.
In addition to cleaning up the environment XL brings many other benefits as well. There are significant savings when you allow for flexibility in approach and when you give businesses and local citizens the ability to craft their own solutions. An amazing thing happens when you are in a conference room rather than a court room: Solutions are found, and discussions broaden from the environment to the needs of the community as a whole. Some communities have decided to invest the savings to keep libraries open longer hours; some to provide health care; others are providing job training to ensure that businesses will hire locally.
Yes, this is about the environment, but it is about much more, too. Its bottom-up. Communities and individual cities taking charge of their own future and using the environment not as a source of confrontation, but as a catalyst to achieve a much greater good. Its about communities thriving. Feeling alive and feeling whole -- just as NEPA envisioned.
Now, it is on this foundation that the American Heritage Rivers Initiative was built. The American Heritage Rivers program is testimony to the connection, to the positive energy that can be built around the environment.
We know that our rivers connect us physically -- one community to another. A river does indeed run through it! They are a channel of water -- the basic stuff of life; but they are also a channel of our history, our poetry, our culture, our economy. Our spirit runs through those rivers, too. The AHR initiative is designed to support those locally driven efforts happening all across our land -- to restore rivers and revitalize the communities that surround them.
I've seen this first hand -- I hale from Philadelphia. Twenty years ago, the Delaware waterfront was no place to be -- crime and drugs; trash and decay. But as our Nations bicentennial approached, the River -- the Delaware -- captured our imaginations. This river had a story to tell, we realized. History and culture. It was part of what made Philadelphia -- and our country great. Penns landing; George Washingtons crossing. So we took that river back -- pushed the pushers out; restored the historic buildings, and as we did so, we started to take our whole city back, too. Philadelphia today is much more alive than it was two decades ago and it all started with revitalizing our riverfront. Let me say declaratively what the AHR program is and what it is not:
American Heritage Rivers is:100% voluntary
100% locally driven.
100% non-regulatory. There are absolutely no new regulatory requirements or restrictions of any kind.
100% in the spirit of NEPA: environment/ economy/ social concerns brought together in a way totally designed and driven by local communities themselves.
100% in the spirit of reinventing government. It is a directive to Federal agencies to recognize citizens as customers and serve them much better than they have; to do more with less; to cut red tape and bureaucracy so citizens can access resources in an efficient and effective way.
100% at the option of communities. Communities become part of AHRs only if they choose and once part of the program, they can end their participation at any time they choose as well. American Heritage Rivers is NOT a federal land grab or intrusion on private property rights. In fact, in light of your concerns in this regard, weve decided to take language written by President Reagan on this front directing agencies to protect private property and incorporate it right in the program itself.
Not every community will elect to be part of American Heritage Rivers, and that is perfectly well and good. But, some communities will see this as an opportunity to help them achieve important goals that theyve set for themselves: economic revitalization; instilling in children an understanding and appreciation of the history and culture of their place; ensuring water quality; underscoring and demonstrating the unique aspects of the city, town or county in which they live. For them, this program means that federal agencies will be directed to work at their service -- Helping them to achieve the goals that, again, theyve come together to set for themselves.
So let me conclude where I started off.
The time for polarization and confrontation around the environment has come to an end: it is time for partnerships, collaboration, and respect to be shown.
The time for top down solutions has come to an end; weve got to engage citizens in an active and effective way to work toward goals theyve articulated themselves.
The environment can and should bring us together. We can not let it -- like so many other things -- tear us apart.
Weve got to listen to one another, work with one another, and find ways to work it out. The environment can bring us together to do that.
The American Heritage Rivers initiative is true to all of these principles. Thank you for your time and attention. I welcome your interests; I value your insights.
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