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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks to Students at the Teton Science School in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

1989-06-13

Sorry, Manuel mentioned my birthday -- it's so nice to be in Wyoming. Nobody, not one person -- your Governor, the Senators, our new Congressman -- no one has said, And now you can ride the subway in Jackson Hole for half-fare. [Laughter] I'm delighted, and thank you for your tolerance. But, Manuel, thank you for that warm introduction. Secretary Lujan and I served in Congress. And I liked very much what Lorraine said about him, and I know he'll do a first-rate job with all the responsibilities that the Secretary of the Interior has. I want to thank all of you for one of the best birthday presents a person could possibly have, and that was going fishing yesterday on Lake Jackson with my grandson. The score: caught six, ate two -- not bad for 45 minutes worth of work out there.

And I am really thrilled to be here. I'm just sorry that the Silver Fox is not here. That's my wife, Barbara. But some have inquired about her health, and she's doing very well, thank you. And she's off doing the good works for literacy in New York City, I think it is, this evening. I wish she were here. She was with me last time, and she'll never forget your hospitality, either.

I want to thank Governor Sullivan, who showed us the extraordinary courtesy of coming over across the line into Montana to greet us yesterday and -- [laughter] -- was with us here and then had his beautiful daughter come out -- and we could see a little more of that wonderful Sullivan family. I'm glad that Senator Malcolm Wallop, a friend of longstanding, is with us. Our new Congressman who's going to do a great job for this State, Craig Thomas, is here. And then I had to put up with [Senator] Al Simpson. [Laughter] You see, every January or so, he and I go fishing, but not in Wyoming. And we have to listen for two straight nights to him lying about Wyoming fishing to those of us fishing in Florida. [Laughter] But nevertheless, I'm glad he's here. And I also want to just single out another friend, a friend of my dad's, a friend of mine, who I'm told is here. And I didn't actually see, but Al tells me that Cliff Hansen is here. He and Martha -- one of the great Wyoming Senators -- Governor, everything else. There he is -- right over there -- looking younger than a spring colt.

Yesterday I announced our proposals for the Clean Air Act -- how to improve it, but protecting the environment requires good people as well as good laws. And I'm especially pleased today to announce that my nominee for the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of Wyoming's own. His Triangle X Ranch I passed just a minute ago up the road. He's president of the State senate. He's here with us today, your own, my friend, Senator John Turner, who's going to take on this very important responsibility. And, Jack, I want to thank you and Lorraine and all the other troopers out there and the Park Service people, who do such a superb job for the entire country.

I want to just visit with you today on some concepts of the environment. It's well-known that Wyoming's first tourist was a trapper named John Colter, a veteran of the Lewis and Clark expedition. In 1808 Colter was captured by the locals, stripped naked, and hotly pursued -- given a chance to run for his life. Seven days later he arrived at a Spanish fort, sore feet and a sunburned back. And today George P. and I, my grandson and I, are awful glad that Wyoming's attitude towards visitors -- [laughter] -- is, what's the phrase? -- kinder and gentler. [Laughter]

We meet in the heart of an environmental success story, part of a tradition that began when Abraham Lincoln granted Yosemite Valley to California, set aside as a preserve, and continued through Teddy Roosevelt and others who found inspiration in these majestic American peaks. And creating national parks was an American idea, an idea imitated all around the world. And it was one of our very best ideas. Five generations of Americans have since enjoyed Yellowstone and the Tetons, the largest intact natural area in the temperate zones of the Earth. And yesterday afternoon I toured the fire areas north of here, saw how Yellowstone is coming back, and marveled at nature's regenerative power.

But whether restoring a forest or the air that flows above it, nature needs our help. And yesterday I stood in the majestic East Room at the White House to announce the proposal designed to ensure that we do our part to improve and preserve our natural heritage, the very air we breathe, from coast to coast and beyond, for another five generations and beyond. And today, with our backs to the Pacific and the jewels of the American Rockies, I look east across this fertile and productive land and call on the American people and on the Congress to join me in this new initiative for clean air.

I've said it before, when talking about issues like drug abuse, crime, and national security, the most fundamental obligation of the Government is to protect the people -- the people's health, the people's safety, and ultimately our values and our traditions. And nowhere are these traditions more real, more alive, than here in the western reaches of Wyoming. It is a land of legend, campfire tales of brave Sioux warriors, of Butch Cassidy and the Union Pacific Railroad, or range wars between cattlemen and the ranchers.

And just over that ridge to the east lies the headwaters of the Wind River, one of the settings -- the epic western ``Lonesome Dove.'' And the book, by McMurtry, begins with the famous passage from T.K. Whipple: ``All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves and the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. And what they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.''

Frontier legends have filled America's movie screens and our imagination for most of this century, but the frontier is not the end of the road. It is quite simply our inspiration. The frontiers we face in the final decade leading to the year 2000 are different from those that our forefathers faced in the mountains and meadows of the American Rockies. What we face are the frontiers of the mind -- scientific, geographic, cultural -- that remain to be crossed. And so, let's cross them.

Last summer I called 1988 the year the Earth spoke back. Time dubbed ``Spaceship Earth'' the planet of the year. And although, ultimately, medical waste on beaches or that wandering garbage barge may not present as grave a danger as the ozone holes that we cannot see, touch, or smell, they helped provide the jolt that we needed as a nation.

And some say we're running out of time -- wrong! The only thing we are running out of is imagination and the will to bring what we can imagine to life. And, yes, there is a new breeze blowing. And borne upon that wind is a new breed of environmentalism. Our mission is not just to defend what's left but to take the offense, to improve our environment across the board.

But it cannot be an American effort alone. As I said in Europe last month, environmental destruction knows no borders. And as the mistrust of the Cold War begins to give way to a new recognition of our common interests, international environmental challenges offer model opportunities for cooperation. I talked about this at the NATO summit to Francois Mitterrand, to Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl. And it is universal -- the concern, international concern -- about the environment. Last fall two whales were saved off American shores by a Soviet icebreaker, a Japanese-built tractor, and a group of determined American Eskimos with saws and boathooks. And, yes, there is a new breeze blowing. And as we speak it is carrying a 156-foot schooner from the Statue of Liberty to Leningrad, an East-West voyage for the environment. And a week ago the airwaves rocked with a 5-hour benefit concert -- I confess I didn't listen to all of it -- broadcast around the world from New York, London, and Brazil -- for environmental challenges and our common future.

And many such international events are symbolic, but here at home the substance awaits. It's in my new proposals to Congress, proposals for cleaner air, for an end to acid rain, urban smog, and other toxic emissions. Congress has been deadlocked on clean air for a long time, and when these proposals pass, it will mark the first improvement in the act in 12 years. And other attempts have failed; competing interests have jammed the avenue to action, and there's been a gridlock.

And I understand the traffic jam -- before deciding on these proposals, I met with representatives of business and energy, and mining and chemical groups, and Members of Congress. And I met with people like you who share my passion for the great outdoors. And just last Thursday I sat down with the leaders of every major environmental group in the United States. And I've listened to these competing voices -- sometimes strident, sometimes thoughtful, always well-intentioned.

And now, no group is going to get everything it wants. Some say we're asking too much, too fast. And others say: Not enough, too slow. But today there's some important common ground, because there is one thing everyone agrees on: We need action, and we need it now. Every American deserves to breathe clean air, and you shouldn't have to drive 2,000 miles to come out here to do it. Environmental gridlock must end!

And now, this isn't the first time Congress has had to struggle with questions about the kind of America we're going to bequeath to our children. And it's not even the first time the debate was carried right into the Tetons. More than 100 years ago, in the summer of 1883, a storm was brewing in Congress over the future of the park. And President Chester Arthur boarded a train headed west. In Chicago, they warned that any reporters who followed would be dropped off the next railroad bridge. Marlin Fitzwater -- very interesting. [Laughter]

On August 5th that train stopped about 100 miles south of here, at the banks of the Green River. And they embarked by mule wagon for the Wind River Valley, and there the roads ended. And there began a 350-mile odyssey by horseback, as the President traversed the Tetons and Yellowstone. And winding through Jackson Hole, he was followed by nearly 200 pack animals and 75 cavalry troops. So, I hope you'll excuse me -- a little parade that came in here -- we were very considerate. [Laughter] President Arthur emerged from the Tetons and returned to Washington with a new vision of the West, and unlike me, 105 pounds of trout. And you know how the story ended. You're looking at it: a scene so unspoiled that it is little different from the view that John Colter first saw in 1808.

And yet today even the Tetons cannot escape the threat of pollution. It comes not from steam engines and logging saws but from the very west wind that shaped those peaks, bearing the often invisible poisons that gust in from the Sun-baked smog of our cities. And it's ironic that, as I've visited with people in these mountains, again and again people say how nice it is to get away from urban air pollution. Well, the bad news is, it can follow you here. But the good news is, we are not going to put up with it any longer -- not here, not at home where you summer visitors live most of your lives. We are not. And the clean air initiatives that we launched yesterday at the White House mark a new chapter in the tradition of protecting our people and our parks. And our aim is to reduce the ``big three'' in air pollution: acid rain, urban smog, toxic emissions.

And to stop acid rain, we will cut sulfur dioxide emissions nearly in half -- 10 million tons -- and cut nitrogen oxide by 2 million tons before the century is out. And to reduce the emissions that cause smog, we've set an ambitious reduction goal. Our plan will cut emissions from cars and factories. It will promote alternative fuels. And it will launch us towards the goal of clean air in every American city -- and that goal will be reached. And on toxics, our plan is designed to cut all categories of airborne toxic chemicals by as much as the best technology we know of will allow, which should be over three-fourths -- again, before the century is out. Wherever the next generation may find your children, our goal is nothing less than an America where all air breathes as clean as morning in the Rockies.

June marks the beginning of summer, a family time, a time of remembrance and tradition. An estimated 290 million visitors will come to America's national parks this year. And, yes, I know it sometimes seems like most of them are camped out at your campsite. [Laughter] And with each new day, American families clamor across the craggy trails above us, around Jenny Lake, Paintbrush Canyon, and the aptly named Rock of Ages. And people return from these spaces rejuvenated, confident, somehow younger.

America's national parks are also living laboratories, where our boundless curiosity is challenged by nature's unbridled forces. Robin Winks, a professor at one of those eastern Ivy League schools with which I am familiar, Yale University, has said: ``Our parks are universities.'' They are a whole world of wonder, where family and friends can watch nature at work. And yesterday, as we stopped on the helicopters, as we landed at one of the burned-out areas between here and West Yellowstone, leaned down to look at that charred soil, and you could see -- coming out of that black, charred soil little tiny green shoots -- nature at work, the power of nature.

Our stewardship of the Earth is brief. We owe it to those who follow to keep that in perspective, to be responsible passengers along the way. They have a saying in the Himalayas: ``To a flea, alive for 80 days, a man is immortal. And to a man, alive for 80 years, a mountain is immortal. Both are wrong.''

And we stand in the shadow of the Tetons, still an unspoiled frontier thanks to the vision of leaders no longer alive. But it's not the last frontier. After the Sun went down last night, we got a glimpse of the frontier beyond. It was up there beyond the peaks, past the clear mountain air that we want to preserve for all Americans, up there in the stars. And as we closed our eyes to rest, we saw the frontier beyond the stars, the frontier within ourselves. In the frontiers ahead, there are no boundaries. We must pioneer new technology, find new solutions, dream new dreams. So, look upon these American peaks and at the American people around you and remember: We've hardly scratched the surface of what God put on Earth and what God put in man.

Thank you all for what you do every single day to preserve the environment for all mankind. Thank you, and God bless you. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:10 a.m. outside of the school. In his remarks, he referred to Lorraine Mintzmeyer, Director of the Rocky Mountain Region of the National Park Service; Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom; President Francois Mitterrand of France; and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany. Following his remarks, the President traveled to Lincoln, NE.

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