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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 22, 2004
Press Gaggle with and Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Wells, Maine
10:32 A.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: The President had his usual briefings before we departed. The Freedom Corps greeter upon arrival -- we'll have two -- Frank and Carol Heller. They are volunteers with the nature reserve that the President is going to. And the reserve works to increase the understanding of ecology by investigating coastal environments, and through community partnerships, the reserve promotes wise stewardship of vital resources throughout the Gulf of Maine. And they volunteer with these efforts.
Then the President looks forward to participating in a coastal conservation project and delivering remarks to talk about our wetlands policy initiative that you all have in the factsheet, that I'm going to let Jim Connaughton talk about here in a minute.
He's going to be participating in a salt marsh water testing project with volunteers. And let me tell you a little bit more about the reserve. It's part of the larger national reserve system, and it's a network of 26 areas across the United States that are protected for long-term research, water quality monitoring, education and coastal stewardship. It is established by the Coastal Zone Management Act of '72, as amended, and the reserve system in a partnership program between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- or NOAA -- and the coastal states. NOAA provides funding, national guidance and technical assistance for it.
And I would just point out that this is -- that Earth Day is being celebrated during National Volunteer Week, where thousands of volunteers are participating in local community service projects around the nation, including efforts to help preserve and protect our public lands, coastal areas, and open spaces.
And then, following that, when we return to the White House, the President will make remarks at the President's Environmental Youth Awards ceremony. And this has been something that the Environmental Protection Agency has sponsored since 1971. The program recognizes young people across America for projects that demonstrate their commitment to the environment. And we can get you more background information on that. It's students in grades k through 12 in all 50 states, and territories, that participate in this.
And with that, I want to just turn it over to Jim Connaughton, the Chairman of our Council on Environmental Quality, to talk to you about the new initiative that the President is announcing today on the wetlands policy.
MR. CONNAUGHTON: Great. Thank you, Scott.
Today's event, you're going to see that the power of incentives, partnership and personal stewardship, and really the great strength of the President's Freedom Corps call to service in the name of conservation -- in order to give that its fullest effects, the President is announcing a major, new shift in policy when it comes to the protection, improvement and restoration of the nation's wetlands.
Until today, the policy of the federal government had been to work toward no net loss of wetlands. Until today, annually, the United States of America would lose wetlands. We'd lose more than we gained. But based on a new USDA report, Department of Agriculture report, we have learned that, for the first time in history, in our nation's history, we are seeing a gain in wetlands on agricultural lands. We are also closing the gap in the loss in wetlands outside of agriculture.
With that milestone, the President is committing the nation to go from a policy of no net loss to a policy of increasing the overall wetlands and quality of our wetlands in the nation. He will also outline our strategy to ensure that this occurs. Through expanded partnership and grant programs, we are going to restore one million acres of wetlands -- that means taking areas that currently aren't wetlands, or aren't serving as wetlands anymore, and reconverting them back into wetlands. We're going to improve an additional one million acres of wetlands. These are degraded areas that are not providing all the habitat functions necessary to make for good and robust habitat, and provide good cover and protection and food sources for wildlife.
Equally important to restoring wetlands and improving wetlands is protecting against loss of wetlands that are at risk. And so we are going to put in place a strategy to protect an additional one million acres of wetlands through these expanded programs.
The President's overall conservation budget for 2005, which he's asking the Congress to pass, is 53 percent greater than the budgets for these programs we started with in 2001. The wetlands components of these programs are 50 percent greater than the amount of dollars the federal taxpayers were spending in 2001. And these substantial increases in these programs will leverage private sector dollars, foundation dollars, and dollars coming from conservation and sportsmen's groups like Ducks, Unlimited, like the Nature Conservancy, like the Trust for Public Land, as well as resources from other local community groups and even, as you'll see here today, corporate groups -- through groups such as the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership. It's the combination of these funding sources and these commitments of government officials and private citizens that will enable us to meet the goal.
Q You talked about no net loss -- or actually, an increase in agricultural wetlands. What percentage of overall wetlands is agricultural; what percentage is non-agricultural?
MR. CONNAUGHTON: The total acres of wetlands in the lower 48 states is about 110 million acres. In the Ag report -- we'll get this to you -- it will give you the specific breakout as to how much of that is found on agricultural land. I don't have that off the top of my head.
Q Fifty, twenty?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- in the report today, though.
MR. CONNAUGHTON: We'll get it to you quickly.
Q But aren't there a lot more wetlands that are not agricultural, compared to --
MR. CONNAUGHTON: Wetlands are primarily found on agricultural land and on public land -- federal, state public lands. They are more limited on private, non-agricultural lands. So the vast majority of them, as I mentioned, are agricultural and publicly managed lands.
Q What do you attribute the gain to?
MR. CONNAUGHTON: A massive amount of work over the last 30 -- actually, this is, what do you attribute getting to no net loss. It's a massive amount of work over the last 30 years, building these incentive and partnership programs. The federal government alone now implements 30 programs to restore and protect wetlands. Those are supported by programs at the state level and then these private efforts.
We've gone -- 30 years ago we were losing annually -- losing on the net, 500 acres of wetlands. As of the most recent broad inventory, in 1997, that was down to losing about 50,000 acres of wetlands a year.
The Ag report shows us that on agricultural lands, we are seeing a gain for the first time, so these programs have done their part to get us to this longstanding no net loss objective, which is why we can now move with confidence to gaining wetlands, which will be -- it's great for wildlife, it's great for people who enjoy and love these beautiful areas, and it's great for the people who love to fish and bird-watch and otherwise get out and about in wetlands areas.
Q -- the administration has thought about a rule that would have allowed a lot of wetlands to be eliminated. So what changed his mind? What changed Bush's mind on his approach to wetlands?
MR. CONNAUGHTON: Well, the assumption of your question is not correct. The administration was not considering a rule that would eliminate wetlands. What we did do is we are working on a rule to implement a Supreme Court decision that took a certain portion of what are called isolated wetlands out of federal regulatory jurisdiction. Okay? Now, I want to make sure you understand the distinction.
There's regulations in place to prevent the loss of wetlands when somebody does a development project. Not -- it's not an agricultural issue, it's private development. Wait, it's private development.
What the Supreme Court said is, the federal government can't regulate that activity if it's solely inside of a state. However, there are substantial incentive and partnership programs that we can use to address that gap. And, in fact, we're also announcing today that EPA is committing $5 million additional to work with the states to address that gap that the Supreme Court left for us.
The President made clear in December that with respect to the regulatory program, we will assure no net loss of wetlands. And, in fact, that will continue as we go forward on the regulatory program.
Now, it's also important that you have a sense of scale. You have a 100 million acres of wetlands. These programs are going to tackle three million acres worth of restoration and improvement and protection. The regulatory program in any given year deals with about 20,000 or 30,000 acres of wetlands, and the way the program works is, if you have to fill a wetland to create an area for a new hospital, for example, you have to make up for it. You have to replace the wetland that you're filling in. That's what the regulatory program does. That program stays intact; it's strong; it works really well.
Q So will Leavitt now begin to enforce after the SWANCC decision? Will Leavitt now begin to clean water enforcement of those areas? Because for a while, it was suspended, clean water enforcement of those waters. Is he now going -- and after the decision, the SWANCC decision, which they announced in January that they were not going to change the policy towards those waters, are they now going to enforce there?
MR. CONNAUGHTON: You actually have your facts completely backwards. Since SWANCC, we have -- and I'll give you all the details -- we have aggressively enforced every wetlands regulatory case. We have won all but one or two of those cases, defending regulatory jurisdiction over wetlands.
Q There's no monitoring of those waters right now.
MR. CONNAUGHTON: Wait a second. In addition, three of the cases that we've won through the court of appeals were just put up for cert* by the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court denied review of those cases. So we are winning the cases in the wetlands regulatory setting. So what you said is exactly the opposite of what's been going on.
Q What my question was, though, initially the administration was thinking about imposing a new rule that would have redefined isolated waterways, right? Isolated wetlands --
MR. CONNAUGHTON: That is incorrect. We did --
Q -- decided not to do that.
MR. CONNAUGHTON: No, no, you are incorrect. We issued what was called an advance notice, not a proposed rule-making, seeking advice from the public for what we should do to implement the Supreme Court decision. The Supreme Court decision took away one of the bases by which we had jurisdiction. It left significant uncertainty with respect to a small number of cases, and we were seeking advice from the public on how we should deal with that uncertainty. Based on that advice that we got from the public, we decided that there was not a need to move forward with the rule-making, okay, because it appeared to us then and it appears to us now that the cases appear to be working themselves out just fine.
Now, there's -- there will always be an outlier or two where there's some ambiguity and we have to work those out on a case-by-case basis, and that's what we're doing. But I want to underline, to the extent we do not have regulatory authority, we are aggressively using our incentive and our partnership based authority to provide protection for wetlands at risk.
Q I mean, is there monitoring going on for those Swank lands that are in question? The monitoring was suspended, right?
MR. CONNAUGHTON: Monitoring has never been suspended. There has been a legitimate concern that the follow-up on mitigation actions -- that's where, again, if you fill a wetland to build a hospital and you need to replace it with a new one, did the replacement work? We -- and you'll see in the factsheet and you'll see in the background information on the web today -- we are implementing a mitigation action plan -- and this is the Bush administration implementing it, we announced it last year -- that's going to give us better monitoring, better measurement, and actually, get better protocol to ensure the wetlands mitigation does the job it was intended to do.
Secondly, we have a -- we've built in a safety buffer in both the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers programs and the highway programs. So, for example, the law requires you to replace a wetland, one for one. If you have to fill a wetland, you have to replace it with an equal wetland. The Army Corps of Engineers, for a safety buffer, is replacing at the rate of 1.8 acres for every acre lost. The Department of Transportation has a policy that mandates that you replace 1.5 acres for every acre lost. In practice, they're achieving close to 2.6 acres for every acre lost. That gives us the assurance we need to address that very real concern that some of this work -- we're still learning, and some of this work might not prove out. And so we want to ensure that we are always getting back more than we're losing.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, thanks.
Q Thanks, a lot.
MR. McCLELLAN: Anything else?
Q Yes, can you comment about the report about the Baathists, that we're encouraging -- or that we would like to see some of the Baathists -- former Baathists in Iraq participate in the government, participate in the military? And if that's the case, how will that help to take the oxygen out of the insurgency?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me tell you where we are. We are reviewing how the policies are being implemented and looking at how we can better balance the need for expertise and experience that Iraqis -- that some Iraqis have with the need for justice. And so that's something that we are looking at and we're working to address.
Q But you are -- you are considering letting Baathists participate?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're reviewing the implementation of those policies, with that balance in mind, and looking at how we might be able to do a better job of balancing those two needs I just mentioned.
Q Will that help take the air out of the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, right now, it's under review. So --
Q Why is it under review?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're looking -- well, for the very reason that I stated. Because, one, you want to make sure that people are being held accountable and being brought to justice. But you also have to balance that and look at the need to have expertise in the different sectors within Iraq.
Q What's going to be the U.N. resolution that you're discussing with the British?
MR. McCLELLAN: What's going to be in it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that those discussions are things that are ongoing at this point. So I wouldn't want to speculate about that. Let's let those discussions continue.
Q But it will be international participation --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, absolutely. We -- and we said that we would welcome a new resolution that could help encourage more countries to participate in Iraq, come the time that sovereignty is transferred to the Iraqi people.
Q What's the White House's assessment of the situation in Fallujah? And is the President concerned about reports from the commanders there that -- in the paper today, one general was quoted as saying an attack is almost inevitable to be needed there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, those are getting into -- if you're getting into military questions, those need to be directed to our military leaders in the region. The President has full confidence in their ability to address these matters. And secondly, there has been an effort underway to find an Iraqi-centered solution, as Secretary Rumsfeld talked about earlier in the week. But in terms of the latest developments there, that's best to direct those questions to the military leaders and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq for where that stands.
Q Scott, Malaysia and Pakistan said today that they would consider sending troops to Iraq if the U.N. took control over there. Is that something that you're talking to them about?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, and like we've said previously, the United Nations, we believe, should be playing a vital role in the political process, and they have been recently. They've been playing a vital role in helping move forward on the transfer of sovereignty to a representative interim government. They've also had a mission there working to move forward on the electoral process that is set to begin next January. And we want the United Nations to continue to play a vital role.
Obviously, come June 30th, the Iraqi people will be playing the primary role going forward, because sovereignty will be transferred at that point in time. We will still be there to help with security and to help with reconstruction.
Q Will the U.S. will still control all U.S. forces or still orchestrate all coalition forces there?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's been made very clear by the Coalition Provisional Authority that when it comes -- and by our military leaders -- that we will be working in partnership, as we are doing now, with the Iraqi people and with other coalition partners. But the security effort is being overseen by the coalition at this point.
Q At that point -- can I ask a quick question? Right at that point, the U.S. forces will be there at the invitation of the Iraqi governing body, right? So what happens if they say, we don't want the U.S. forces here anymore?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Iraqi people want the coalition forces to continue to help provide for the future security of the country. And that's what -- I think that you're seeing from the coalition firm resolve to finish the job and help the Iraqi people realize a free and peaceful future, because that is key to winning the war on terrorism. A free and peaceful Iraq is important to bringing about greater stability in a dangerous part of the world. And that is key to winning the war on terrorism.
So we appreciate all the strong statements of resolve from coalition partners and we welcome other countries coming in and participating in the future. And that's why part of this discussion -- we welcome the comments by Mr. Brahimi that he thinks the United Nations will be moving forward soon on a new resolution to encourage even broader participation.
Q What did Prince Bandar tell the White House yesterday about the situation in Saudi Arabia, who was responsible for those attacks yesterday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ann, I don't have any update in terms of who is responsible. Those are questions best directed to the Saudi officials, at this point. But I've not received any update on responsibility.
Q Can I ask you one question about Senator Hagel's comments about -- he was saying that there should be a debate about a draft in the United States because he feels that the burden of fighting the war on terrorism might not be shared -- being shared fairly across the board. Does the President believe that having an all-volunteer military is an effective way that all citizens are equally shouldering that burden?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that our military leaders have said that they believe they have the troop levels necessary to continue waging and winning the war on terrorism --
Q What about the money?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and have the troop levels they need to continue our efforts to win the war on terrorism. And so I think that that's been addressed by military leaders. And the President -- as I said yesterday, that is just not something that's under consideration at this time.
Q What about the fairness issue, as opposed to the troop level issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President supports the voluntary military force that we have now.
Q What about -- do you have enough money? Are you going to have to ask for more money?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I went through that yesterday in the briefing.
Q Let me put it this way. Does the President think that the American people have a need or a right to know the nation's budgetary situation, including more spending money needed for the war in Iraq, before the election?
MR. McCLELLAN: We have been keeping the American people informed about the funding needs for Iraq going forward. Our Director of Office of Management and Budget and Pentagon officials have made it very clear that we will need an additional supplemental to provide additional resources for our troops in Iraq. But remember, we work to -- the President has made it very clear that we will provide our troops with all the resources they need to do their job. And he looks to our commanders in the theater to make those determinations, in terms of what is needed.
Q There's no money in --
MR. McCLELLAN: Pentagon officials have told us that at this time, they have more than enough resources to do their job. And those are things that are constantly being looked at and evaluated. And those determinations are based upon circumstances on the ground in Iraq.
And you also have to keep in mind what the security situation is in Iraq, going forward. So you always have to look at the security situation going forward. But we've been very clear -- we worked to pass the $87 billion wartime supplemental to provide our troops with the resources they needed to do their job. And we said that we would come back with another supplemental at some point. But it's important to make sure that you have precise estimates, based on what the commanders in the field are saying.
Q If the commanders ask for more money and say they need more money, the President won't wait until after the election to actually make a request?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but, Deb, the commanders and the Pentagon have told us that they have -- but that's getting into speculation -- let's talk about what the situation is -- have told us that they have more than enough resources to do their job at this time. But we always look at these issues and we always have to keep in mind the circumstances on the ground and what the security situation is, as well. But we will always make sure that our troops have everything they need to do their job.
END 10:59 A.M. EDT
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