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Public Papers - 1989 - March

Remarks to Members of the National Association of Attorneys General

1989-03-13

Well, I am just delighted to see this illustrious group here. I wanted you to meet Bill Reilly, who is our Administrator of the EPA and a man whose reputation many of you know about. And I've prepared just a few remarks that I want to make on a couple of subjects where this group has been out front. And when I finish, Bill will say a few words.

I would ask your forbearance. I just couldn't pull myself away from watching the Discovery take off, and it's now airborne and appears to be going well. So, I think that is always a rather tense moment; but the flight is underway.

I would say to Bob and everybody else that this association -- as I look at your agenda, it's clear to me that this association and the White House are fighting the same battles and on the same agenda. Your reports on environmental protection and also on drug control strategies got you way out front on these two issues. And I think it's a good thing. And we are determined to have those as two prominent agenda items right here in the White House. Now, the approaches that you've taken reinforce my conviction that, together, where we have these shared concerns, we're going to find solutions, and we've got to find State and Federal roles that work. We're going to apply limited resources -- and again, I wish they weren't as limited, particularly in these two areas -- but we've got to apply the limited resources in a coordinated manner.

At the Federal level, I'm convinced that on many issues the time for study has passed -- on these environmental issues -- and I know that Bill agrees with me. So, we are proposing legislation to reauthorize the Clean Air Act. And I want to work with the Congress on a comprehensive acid rain program. And again, I think working with you all, we can do a lot on throwing the book at those who engaged in illegal ocean dumping. Bill is just back from a highly successful international conference that was opened by Margaret Thatcher in the U.K., and he can tell you perhaps a little about what went on there. But in these broad areas of global warming, we've got to do better, and we will.

Over the last decade, the States have taken on a key role, the lead, I might add, in many areas, in terms of protecting the environment. And I view that as good news. I believe that. I still believe strongly in federalism, and I think that's very, very important. So, I want to work with you on those environmental questions where we share responsibility. We need to step up that Superfund cleanup process and improve enforcement. We must assure compliance with the hazardous waste laws. And where enforcement of all the laws that protect our environment are concerned, I'd like you to think about the most serious cases, where you've got to move beyond civil penalties toward criminal enforcement, both as a sanction and as a deterrent.

In a few minutes, as I say, Bill will give a little more detail on our environmental agenda, and you will see in him what I have seen: that he is an expert here, an outstanding ally, and a fellow soldier in this struggle. He also understands the differences between the State responsibility and the Federal, but they need to work together.

So, let me just touch on the other subject that I mentioned up front before turning this over to him. We've got to see that the great cities -- indeed, some of rural America -- that they are no longer held hostage to the crack dealers. Our schools must not be locked in a state of siege. And you know, drugs are like chemical weapons that a society turns on itself. And they breed the most insidious forms of domestic terrorism. And they've got to be stopped, and we've got to vow that they will be stopped.

The budget that I sent up to the Congress a few weeks ago is a realistic, fiscally responsible plan that identifies key priorities requiring our immediate attention. One of these priorities is combating the scourge of drugs. And that's why I am asking for billion in new outlays for the antidrug program. That's a 47-percent increase over 1988, for a total of billion in budget authority for 1990. Most of that money, 70 percent of it, will beef up Federal enforcement; provide grants to State and local law enforcement agencies; build up our prosecution, detentions, and intelligence-gathering strength.

As chief legal officers, you know about enforcement, and you know how vital it is. And as my budget makes clear, I wanted to vote unprecedented resources to enforcement. But clearly, we've got to do more. This war won't be won by police work alone. Where there's demand, supply will always rise to meet it. And where there's no demand, supply is useless. And that's why I was glad to see your ``Blueprint for Drug Control Strategies'' broadens the goals of enforcement. You say that reducing demand must be the ideological cornerstone of any coherent drug enforcement policy. And you're right; enforcement strategies must look beyond effects to causes. Drug education, treatment, prevention provide our best hope for long-term solution, especially with our kids. And we need to tell them, of course, to say no; but we've also got to give them the wisdom to know why and the skills to know how to say no.

I want to ask you to continue looking closely at these drug enforcement programs. How can they help reduce demand? Less demand means more success on the war on drugs. And to the extent you can cut demand, you can make your jobs, my job, and those of everyone involved, a whole lot more rewarding. Our financial resources may be limited, but our resolve is unlimited. And with that limitless resolve, I know that we can inspire every child, teacher, and parent, every community group, religious institution, and tenant association, and every business and professional organization in this country. And then, united in common resolve, we will be truly invincible.

I've said before that we have more will than wallet, but the only limits on our will are the limits we place on ourselves. We can, we must, build a culture of zero tolerance. And then we'll send a message loud and clear to those who take drugs, and take our leniency for granted: The party is over.

And so, I will simply end by telling you about a visit I had to the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] up in New York. It was most interesting, and it was addressing all our agents. And I know many of you have worked with them, and like you, I was very much impressed by the caliber of the young men and women. You wonder what does it take to be a person that knows now that the culture has changed, that their lives are literally on the line.

After meeting with the big group, we went into a small meeting room and talked to the agents themselves, those that were undercover. And one of them explained it to me this way. It used to be if there was a drug bust people would say ``police'' or ``DEA'' or ``FBI'' or whatever it is, and the bad guys would stop what they were doing and, you know, submit to arrest. Now the culture has changed: The bad guys turn around and start shooting.

And so, it really drove home to me the need to support these enforcement officers with changes in the law and whatever else it's going to take. The penalty in some areas for killing a policeman is the same as being caught with x ounces of drugs on you. And so, how can there be any incentive if we don't have some differentiation? This is your business; you know this, but we would welcome recommendations to our Attorney General and to the White House on how best to effect the kind of changes that are going to be necessary in that aspect of the problem.

Now, back to the first agenda item: the environment. Bill has got a good way of building bridges between people. He's the first kind of certified environmentalist to be in this important post, and he's been called the Great Includer. You can figure that out when you listen to him. But he's devoted his career really to protecting our land, air, and water. He has my complete confidence. I expect when you've dealt with him for a while he'll have yours. I ask that you give him your full cooperation because, again, like the whole question of the second agenda item, this first one, the environment and the need to preserve it and to hand our kids something a little better than we found, is absolute priority.

So, with no further ado -- and the only regret, that I won't have a chance to visit more informally with each and every one of you -- thanks for coming. And let me introduce you to Bill Reilly, who I know will have your full support. Bill, all yours.

Note: The President spoke at 10:02 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Robert Abrams, president of the association.

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