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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks Announcing Proposed Legislation To Amend the Clean Air Act


Well, in this room are Republicans and Democrats, leaders from both sides of the aisle in Congress, Governors, executives from some of the most important companies and business organizations in America, leading conservationists, and people who have devoted their lives to creating a cleaner and safer environment. And I've invited you here today to make a point. With the leadership assembled in this room, we can break the stalemate that has hindered progress on clean air for the past decade; and with the minds, the energy, the talent assembled here, we can find a solution.

So, let me tell you the purposes of this morning's gathering. First, I'd like to lay on the table my proposals to curb acid rain and cut urban smog and clean up air toxics. And second, I want to call upon all of you to join me in enacting into law a new Clean Air Act this year. But first, we should remember how far we've come and recognize what works.

The 1970 Clean Air Act got us moving in the right direction with national air quality standards that were strengthened by amendments in 1977. Since 1970, even though we have 55 percent more cars going 50 percent farther, in spite of more utility output and more industrial production, we've still made progress. Lead concentrations in the air we breathe are down 98 percent. Sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide cut by over a third. Particulate matter cut 21 percent; even ozone-causing emissions have been cut by 17 percent. And still, over the last decade, we have not come far enough.

Too many Americans continue to breathe dirty air. And political paralysis has plagued further progress against air pollution. We have to break this logjam by applying more than just Federal leverage. We must take advantage of the innovation, energy, and ingenuity of every American.

The environmental movement has a long history here in this country. It's been a force for good, for a safer, healthier America. And as a people, we want and need that economic growth, but now we must also expect environmental responsibility and respect the natural world. And this will demand a national sense of commitment, a new ethic of conservation. And I reject the notion that sound ecology and a strong economy are mutually exclusive. So, last week I outlined five points of a new environmental philosophy: one, to harness the power of the marketplace; two, to encourage local initiative; three, to emphasize prevention instead of just cleanup; four, to foster international cooperation; and five, to ensure strict enforcement -- polluters will pay.

We know more now than we did just a few years ago. New solutions are close at hand. It's time to put our best minds to work; to turn technology and the power of the marketplace to the advantage of the environment; to create; to innovate; to tip the scales in favor of recovery, restoration, and renewal. Every American expects and deserves to breathe clean air, and as President, it is my mission to guarantee it -- for this generation and for the generations to come. If we take this commitment seriously, if we believe that every American expects and deserves clean air, and then we act on that belief, then we will set an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Today I am proposing to Congress a new Clean Air Act and offering a new opportunity. We've seen enough of this stalemate; it's time to clear the air. And you know, I think we will. We touched a lot of bases as we prepared this bill, and we've had the benefit of some good thinking on the Hill. And we've met with business leaders who see environmental protection as essential to long-term economic growth, and we've talked with environmentalists who know that cost-effective solutions help build public support for conservation. And we've worked with academics and innovative thinkers from every quarter who have laid the groundwork for this approach. And just this morning I spoke by phone with Prime Minister Mulroney of Canada. I believe he's excited about the prospect, too. I have no pride of authorship. Let me commend Project 88 and groups like the Environmental Defense Fund for bringing creative solutions to longstanding problems, for not only breaking the mold but helping to build a new one.

And we've had to make some tough choices. And some may think we've gone too far, and others not far enough; but we all care about clean air. To the millions of Americans who still breathe unhealthy air, let me tell you, I'm concerned -- I'm concerned about vulnerable groups like the elderly and asthmatics and children, concerned about every American's quality of life; and I'm committed to see that coming generations receive the natural legacy they deserve.

We seek reforms that make major pollution reductions where we most need them. First, our approach is reasonable deadlines for those who must comply. It has compelling sanctions for those who don't. It accounts for continued economic growth and expansion; offers incentives, choice, and flexibility for industry to find the best solutions; and taps the power of the marketplace and local initiative better than any previous piece of environmental legislation.

This legislation will be comprehensive. It will be cost-effective; but above all, it will work. We will make the 1990's the era for clean air. And we have three clear goals and three clear deadlines. First, we will cut the sulfur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain by almost half, by 10 million tons, and we will cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 2 million tons, both by the year 2000. We have set absolute goals for reductions and have emphasized early gains. And that means 5 million tons will be cut by 1995, and the degradation caused by acid rain will stop by the end of this century. To make sure that coal continues to play a vital role in our energy future, we've provided an extension of 3 years and regulatory incentives for the use of innovative, clean-coal technology. We've set an ambitious reduction target, and applying market forces will be the fastest, most cost-effective way to achieve it. So, we're allowing utilities to trade credits among themselves for reductions they make, to let them decide how to bring aggregate emissions down as cost-effectively as possible. Cleaner fuels, better technologies, energy conservation, improved efficiency -- in any combination, just as long as it works.

There's a wisdom to handing work to those most qualified to do it. Four hundred years ago Montaigne wrote: ``Let us permit nature to have her way. She understands her business better than we do.'' Well, it's true. Acid rain must be stopped, and that's what we all care about. But it's also true that business understands its business better than we do. So, we're going to put that understanding to work on behalf of clean air and a sound environment. We've provided the goals, but we won't try to micromanage them. We will allow flexibility in how industry achieves these goals, but we stand firm on what must be achieved.

Second, this Federal proposal will cut the emissions that cause urban ozone, smog, virtually in half. This will put the States well on the road to meeting the standard. Twenty years ago, we started on the job. And if Congress will act on the clean air reforms that I'm offering today, 20 years from now, every American in every city in America will breathe clean air. Today 81 cities don't meet Federal air quality standards. This legislation will bring clean air to all but about 20 cities by 1995, and within 20 years, even Los Angeles and Houston and New York will be expected to make it.

In the nine urban areas with the greatest smog problems, we propose bold new initiatives to reconcile the automobile to the environment, ensuring continued economic growth without disruptive driving controls. We'll accomplish this through alternative fuels and clean-fueled vehicles. We propose to put up to a million clean-fueled vehicles a year on the road by 1997. But we're also proposing flexibility on the means, even as we remain firm on the goals. A city can either request inclusion in the program or, if they show they can achieve these ambitious reductions through other measures, we will scale back the clean-fuel vehicle requirements accordingly. Also, we're sensitive to the problems of smaller cities, whose own ozone problems are due largely to pollutants that are generated in other areas, other regions, other cities. They will not be penalized for pollution problems outside their control.

Our program incorporates a mix of cost-effective measures to cut emissions from cars, fuels, factories, and other sources. But I'm asking the EPA to develop rules like those we're employing on acid rain to allow auto and fuel companies to trade required reductions in order to meet the standard in the most cost-effective way. Our challenge is to develop an emissions trading plan; their challenge is to meet the standards.

The third leg of our proposal is designed to cut all categories of airborne toxic chemicals by three-quarters within this decade. Our best minds will apply the most advanced industrial technology available to control these airborne poisons. The very best control technology we have will determine the standard we set for those plants. And until now, because of an unworkable law, the EPA has been able to regulate only 7 of the 280 known air toxics. The bill I am proposing today will set a schedule for regulating sources of air toxics by dates certain. In addition, it will give the dedicated people of the EPA the right tools for the job, and it will make state-of-the-art technology an everyday fact of doing business. And that's the way it should be.

In its first phase, this initiative should eliminate about three-quarters of the needless deaths from cancer that have been caused by toxic industrial air emissions. And we plan a second phase to go after any remaining unreasonable risk. People who live near industrial facilities should not have to fear for their health.

And for 10 years, we've struggled to engage a united effort on behalf of clean air, and we're now on the edge of real change. Nineteen eighty-nine could be recorded as the year when business leaders and environmental advocates began to work together, when environmental issues moved out of the courts, beyond conflict, into a new era of cooperation. And this can be known as the year we mobilized leadership, both public and private, to make environmental protection a growth industry and keep our ecology safe for diversity. The wounded winds of north, south, east, and west can be purified and cleansed, and the integrity of nature can be made whole again. Ours is a rare opportunity to reverse the errors of this generation in the service of the next; and we cannot, we must not, fail. We must prevail. I ask for your support. We need your support to make all of this into a reality.

Thank you all, and God bless you, and thank you very much for coming.

Note: The President spoke at 11:15 a.m. in the East Room of the White House.

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