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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 23, 2005

President Honors and Congratulates EPA Administrator Steve Johnson
Environmental Protection Agency
Washington, D.C.

President's Remarks

1:48 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I'm proud to visit the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency. (Applause.) I am honored to be here to congratulate Steve Johnson on becoming America's 11th EPA Administrator. Congratulations. (Applause.) It is good to be up here with Debbie, your wonderful family, as well as your dad, Bill.

I'm sorry that Laura couldn't join us, but today she's been touring the Egyptian desert. (Laughter.) She tells me that if you take away the pyramids, it just looks like West Texas. (Laughter.)

I want to thank Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta for joining us. I want to thank the former EPA Administrator, the former governor of New Jersey, Christie Todd Whitman, for coming today. (Applause.) I thank Congressman Charlie Taylor of North Carolina for joining us today. Congressman, I'm proud you're here. He happens to be the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. Welcome. (Applause.)

My administration is fulfilling our responsibility to be good stewards of the Earth. Today, America's air, land and water are cleaner than they were in 2001. We've reduced air pollution by more than 10 percent. We put in place clean diesel rules that will cut emissions from heavy-duty vehicles by more than 90 percent over 10 years. We've restored nearly 1,200 abandoned industrial sites to productive use. We've worked to pass the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, to protect forests and wildlife and homeowners against catastrophic fires. We've substantially increased funding to improve water quality in the Great Lakes.

Our policies are protecting the environment while also promoting growth. And I want to thank each employee of this agency for helping make this progress possible. (Applause.)

Steve Johnson is the right man to build on this progress. He has 24 years of experience here at the EPA. He is the first career EPA employee to hold the office of Administrator. (Applause.) Steve is also the first professional scientist to lead the agency. With this background, Steve will help us continue to place sound scientific analysis at the heart of all major environmental decisions.

The EPA recently finalized a rule that places the first-ever national cap on mercury emissions from power plants, which will result in a nearly 70-percent decrease in these emissions. And we issued the Clean Air Interstate rule to reduce air pollution from power plants by 70 percent. These rules are a good start, but they are not a substitute for effective legislation. So one of Steve's first tasks -- and I look forward to joining you on this task -- to further reduce air pollution is to work with Congress to pass the Clear Skies legislation. (Applause.) Clear Skies is a common-sense, pro-environment, pro-jobs initiative. And Congress needs to pass the bill this year. (Applause.)

Steve will also build on EPA's work to improve the quality and security of our drinking water. We're enforcing strict standards to bring cleaner water to communities across our country. The budget I submitted this year to Congress includes a $44-million pilot program to develop tools to better monitor urban water systems so we can detect contamination as quickly as possible. The budget also increases support for EPA homeland security programs by more than 70 percent next year. Under Steve's leadership, we will work to ensure that every American community continues to have a water supply that is clean and is safe.

We must build on our progress and the conservation and protection of our wetlands, soil, and wildlife habitats. On Earth Day last year, I announced a new goal to restore, improve and protect at least 3 million acres of wetlands by 2009. After one year, we've already enhanced over 800,000 acres of wetlands. And that puts us on a pace to meet our goal.

And finally, we will continue our enforcement strategy which focuses on achieving real environmental improvements that benefit everyone. Since 2001, the EPA has increased compliance inspections by 19 percent, and civil investigations by 24 percent. And last year, the agency provided compliance assistance to over 730,000 individuals and businesses.

Our strategy is working. Last year we obtained commitments to reduce future pollution by an estimated 1 billion pounds, an increase of 50 percent over the 2001 level. And I want to thank all the EPA employees who work in the field to work on this collaborative effort.

Steve leads -- as Steve leads the EPA, he will maintain our common-sense approach of collaborating with leaders and volunteers at the local level to find the best solutions to meet our national goals. We'll continue to vigorously enforce our environmental laws. We'll encourage good stewardship of natural resources, and we will focus on results. We'll continue to protect the health of our citizens, and help guarantee the quality of our air, water and land for generations to come.

I'm looking forward to working with this good man as he leads this important agency. Steve, congratulations. God bless.

MR. JOHNSON: Thank you, sir. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Mr. President, members of the Cabinet, Chairman Taylor, my family, friends and distinguished colleagues: I welcome you to EPA Headquarters. Mr. President, you are the first President to visit EPA Headquarters here at Ariel Rios. Your visit today highlights to the nation and to the world the importance of protecting our environment.

As a career scientist, I spent the majority of my adult life working side-by-side with the world's experts in the field of environmental protection. Today, I am proud and honored to stand side-by-side with you, Mr. President, together, reaffirming our nation's commitment to protecting public health and the environment.

As I prepared for today, I thought about how I felt when the President asked me to lead the EPA. Even after years of Latin, German, scientific training, the only word that I could think of was, "wow" -- (laughter) -- wow. (Laughter.) That's exactly how I felt then, and it's exactly how I feel today -- wow. (Laughter.)

Mr. President, I approach the task of leading the Environmental Protection Agency with great enthusiasm and profound optimism. Your selection of a career scientist to serve as Administrator has clearly demonstrated your dedication to science on which agency decisions are based.

Over the past 35 years, EPA has been a significant part of our nation's many environmental accomplishments. These experiences have taught us that sound science is the basis of our achievements and the genesis for our future successes. And that is why we're here, to accelerate environmental progress and to deliver better, more efficient results while maintaining our economic competitiveness.

When my daughters call, they ask if my grandchildren's playgrounds are safe, if their water is healthy to drink, if their houses are built on safe ground. They look to EPA to provide them with a peace of mind which comes from knowing that their children's natural environment is being watched over.

Mr. President, under your leadership, our country has made great strides in cleaning our air, water and land in a way that allows our nation to continue to grow and prosper. Today the air across our country is the cleanest it has been in three decades; our food and drinking water supplies are safer; our land is better protected.

These past successes are the solid foundation for future advancements in environmental stewardship. Just as we live in a global marketplace, we now understand that many of our environmental challenges are not confined to political or physical boundaries. By expanding the roles of technology, collaborative partnerships and flexible policies, we will be able to engage broad interests and deliver results quicker and more effectively than ever before.

None of these objectives can be achieved without the commitment of our professional staff. The success of EPA and the health of our nation's environment cannot be separated from the productivity and creativity of my colleagues. I would like to thank them for their continued hard work and devotion to our mission.

Mr. President, thank you again for this opportunity. I am humbled by the trust you have placed in me, and look forward to working together to provide the next generation a cleaner, safer environment in which to live, work and play.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Congratulations.

END 1:59 P.M. EDT

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