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Jim Connaughton
Jim Connaughton
Council on Environmental Quality Chairman
April 22, 2004

Jim Connaughton
Happy 35th Earth Day
It's a pleasure to be back on Ask the White House (the second time this week!) to answer your questions as we celebrate our great progress since the first Earth Day. Just a few hours ago, I was with the President for his tour and Earth Day address at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. A cloudy, cold, and wet morning gave way to warm sunshine as we visited one of the East Coast's most beautiful marshlands, also home to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge -- a natural "string of pearls" along the Gulf of Maine. There the President announced a major milestone in the restoration, improvement, and protection of our nation's wetlands. Check out the speech and announcement for yourself here.

Kim, from Nashville, TN writes:
Where and when did Earthday get its start? How did the idea come about?

Jim Connaughton
Good question to start with!

In the late 1960s, a number of Americans came to realize that the environmental quality in this country was degrading to a point where some kind of action needed to be taken to reverse the trend. Millions of Americans came together on April 22, 1970 across the country as part of a national campaign to raise awareness of the various problems. Some of the great benefits of this renaissance included the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the signing of the National Environmental Policy Act by President Nixon, and even the creation of my own agency within the Executive of the President, the Council on Environmental Quality. The first statement of national policy on the environment was made and remains central today: "to promote the general welfare, to create and maintain the conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and to fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans."

"Productive harmony" is a wonderful concept to live by.

I encourage you to visit to learn more about the history of Earth Day, and the sense of personal responsibility and stewardship that drove the early environmental movement and helped spur the incredible progress we’ve made in the last 30 years, are making today, and are assured of continuing well into the future.

john, from College Station writes:
Why do SUVs get exemptions from air pollution and gas economy laws? All they are is station wagons made to look like jeeps. It might have been OK to give an exemption to farm vehicles but now that half of the vehicles in Houston and Dallas are SUVs or pickup trucks it's getting hard to breathe.

Jim Connaughton
Actually, and fortunately, SUVs are not exempt from either the pollution laws (how much can be emitted from the tailpipe) or fuel economy laws (how fuel is consumed per mile).

On the pollution side, over the last 30 years we have dramatically cut pollution from all vehicles (check out EPA's website for details). That is why we don't have the choking smog which I remember as a teenager in the 70s. Even so, the remaining pollution from a larger number of cars driving further is still a challenge. You should be pleased that this year we've hit a new milestone by implementing a new set of standards that will result in cars, SUVs, pickups, and vans that are 77-95% cleaner than today's cars and trucks. A new SUV purchased next year will actually pollute less than many older vehicles on the road today.

We have a whole series new rules coming that will also cut pollution from heavy truck and for the first time from construction and other off-road vehicles, as well as cutting the sulfur from diesel fuel by 90%.

On the fuel economy side, last April, the Bush Administration finalized rules that increased the fuel economy of light trucks, including SUVs for Model Years 2005 – 2007 from 20.7 miles per gallon to 22.2 miles per gallon by 2007. This was the first increase since 1996. We anticipate that our new standards will save roughly 3 billion gallons of gas over the lifetime of these vehicles while preventing about 30 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Certain large vehicles, like the Hummer, are not currently covered by the program. We have taken public comment on ways to include these larger vehicles in the program.

I am encouraged about the future, having recently driven a hydrogen-powered minivan, a gasoline-electric hybrid passenger car, and even a new, cleaner diesel luxury sedan that is highly fuel efficient and even performs better than a gasoline powered vehicle. The President has a huge international program to accelerate the time to when hydrogen powered cars will be available in the showroom. Check out the Department of Energy's website on this!

Kelly, from Texas writes:
Why is it that Democrats are more concerned with the environment (i.e. taking care of it) and Republicans show little interest unless they have

found a way to make money from it? When did the environment become such a small issue when without it we would have nothing?

Jim Connaughton
That is not my experience. I have traveled the country and the world and find that the vast majority of folks share the goal of improving and protecting our environment – whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or independent, American or foreigner. These days, the issue is no longer whether to protect the environment, but how much, by when, and using what tool is best for the job. The Bush Administration stands behind the philosophy that a dynamic economy will bring about strong environmental progress. We’ve seen that progress over the last 30 years as air pollution declined by nearly half while the U.S. economy more than doubled (164%) in strength. We support and propose approaches that encourage innovation and investments in newer, cleaner technologies, programs that offer incentives to improve faster as opposed to the old way of thinking that involved prolonged litigation with minimal environmental benefit.

President Bush brings a personal passion (as many of us do) to the subject because he owns a ranch and is an avid outdoorsman. He has a personal stake (as we all do) in continuing our great progress to make the world and our own backyard a better place.

Richard, from Houston, Texas writes:
What is the government doing to promote the study of Fuel Cell Cars ?

Jim Connaughton
I can't do a better job on this than the excellent discussion on the Department of Energy's website or on the websites of the various car companies.

I visited the Detroit Auto show this year, and every major manufacturer had a working fuel cel vehicle on display -- cars, trucks, minivans, buses, delivery truck. The future is coming. I look forward to my 12 year old son being able to drive his kids around in a fuel cell car.

Chris, from Rancho Palos Verdes, CA writes:
This White House attempting to celebrate "Earth Day" is the biggest crock I've ever seen. How can you guys do it with a straight face?

Jim Connaughton

I and my colleagues in the White House do our jobs on behalf of the President with the confidence that the policies we put forward and the decisions we make each day will improve the environmental quality for all Americans.

Personally, I am an environmentalist and a conservationist, and I took this job to make a difference in favor of signficant enviromental performance. I am privileged to serve a President that has charged us to implement the common sense policies that will make this happen.

Daniel, from Takoma Park, Maryland writes:
President Bush has often spoken of his dedication to children and his desire to make sure that no child is left behind. What is he doing to reduce environmental hazards that can contribute to learning disorders, such as

lead and mercury?

Jim Connaughton
The President is very focused on this issue.

Mercury can be a health risk to certain women and kids if they are exposed to substantial quantities and certain kinds of fish on a regular basis. Last month, the EPA and FDA issued a joint advisory on methylmercury in fish and shellfish to help reduce exposure to high levels of mercury in women who may become pregnant, women who are already pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children, by being smart about the food they eat. Fish is very good for health, so the right choices should be made so those benefits are not lost.

The Bush Administration, for the first time ever, is going to regulate mercury emissions from power plants, one of the factors in the contamination of certain types of seafood that may lead to the serious problems you mentioned. Mercury from power plants is not regulated today.

We have two plans on the table that place mandatory caps on mercury emissions. The first is a market-based cap-and-trade system, based on the most successful program in the Clean Air Act (the Acid Rain Program), which will cap mercury emissions at 70% while providing incentives for power plants to cut emissions early through credit trading. It is to a plant’s advantage to cut emissions earlier rather than later under this program. The second proposal involves installing maximum achievable control technologies (MACTs), which does not provide the same opportunity for early cuts in emissions. Either way, we will go from no regulation to a mandatory 70% cut. Both of these proposals are currently receiving comments from the public, and we are on schedule to issue a final regulation later this year, per the commitment made last December.

Reducing lead pollution is one of the great environmental success stories in history. We've cut airborne lead pollution by well over 90%. Lead in the old paint in some homes remains a problem -- but it is a steadily declining one. We are implementing programs that are on track to completing this effort. We have been so successful in the U.S. that the Bush Administration is championing programs in other parts of the world to replicate this success -- especially by getting lead out of gasoline in a number of countries.

Importantly, our new air quality standards and new Clean Air regulations cutting power plant pollution and diesel pollution will be a real help to our urban populations and a real source of relief for asthmatics and others who suffer from respiratory illnesses.

Ross, from Minchinhampton, England writes:
Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol, saying it would be too damaging to the US economy. That's debatable, but what isn't is that the US is by far the world's largest polluter. Do you agree that as the biggest polluter,

and also as the richest, most powerful nation on Earth the US is obliged to come up with something better than Kyoto to combat global warming?

Jim Connaughton
Thanks for the question from abroad.

We are pursuing a more sensible, practical, and sustainable strategy for tackling the long-term challenge of global climate change.

Just a few points about Kyoto first. You might recall that in 1997, our U.S. Senate rejected the Kyoto Protocol because of the harm it would have brought to our economy, and the fact that many of the world’s developing countries were excluded from its requirements. In fact, a number of those countries will experience rapid growth in coming decades, accompanied by exponentially growing greenhouse. Implementation of the Kyoto Protocol in the U.S. would have forced higher energy costs on hard-working American families and businesses, and would have resulted in the loss of as much as $397 billion in U.S. GDP, and up to 4.9 million lost American jobs, many of which would be exported overseas. With lower energy efficiency and productivity rates in many developing countries, it’s likely that global greenhouse gas emissions could actually increase as a result. Declines in our greenhouse gas emissions would have been offset by a corresponding increase in other countries. That is not a desirable outcome for anyone interested is making progress to slow the growth in greenhouse gases.

Here’s a quick overview of our approach, but I’d encourage you to read more on our fact sheet at /news/releases/2003/09/20030930-4.html. We are committed to reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of the U.S. economy by 18 percent by 2012 – preventing the emission of more than 500 million tons of carbon over this period. And we have a comprehensive, innovative program of domestic and climate change initiatives to support that objective. We begin by slowing the rate of increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and then, as the science justifies, stop – and then reverse – the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. We invest nearly $2 billion every year to learn more about natural and human-induced changes in the Earth's global environmental system; to monitor, understand, and predict global change; and to provide a sound scientific basis for national and international decisionmaking.

As we learn more about global climate change, we are actively taking steps to mitigate greenhouse emissions. For example, the President’s Hydrogen Fuel Initiative and FreedomCAR Partnership will develop hydrogen-powered fuel cells, a hydrogen infrastructure, and advanced automobile technologies, allowing for a new generation of hydrogen-powered vehicles with virtually no pollution or greenhouse gases. Through the President’s FutureGen program, we will build, with private-sector and international partners, the first-ever coal-fired power plant that is pollution-free and emits no greenhouse gases. And we propose tax incentives totaling $4.1 billion through 2009 to spur the use of cleaner, renewable energy and more energy efficient technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are also the largest source of funding for the activities of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and have forged 13 bilateral and regional partnerships with countries that, along with the United States, represent 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Our approach ensures secure, reliable, affordable, and clean energy for individual Americans, and American businesses, and partnership for real action and meaningful progress in other countries.

Jim Connaughton
Thank you for your great questions. I.m excited that so many Americans care about the environment and want to do more to improve it. President Bush believes strongly in the ethic of personal stewardship. While we can do a lot in Washington to create and guide policy, you can do a lot yourselves through various volunteer projects, or even right at home in your daily lives.