Introductory Address of EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt
December 2, 2003
Thank you, Marianne. I would like to acknowledge Marianne’s service and leadership as Acting Administrator, as well as former Administrator Christie Todd Whitman. Their service and leadership benefited this nation and made my succession a positive one.
Nearly four weeks ago, I was sworn in as the tenth Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The days since have been spent getting acquainted, listening and beginning the important process of earning the confidence of the people who are the EPA and determining how best to focus my leadership.
Today I want to give you a clear view of my plans, expectations and aspirations, and to answer some of the questions I know are uppermost on your minds about “the new guy.”
I have to admit there have been challenging moments during the past three weeks. For example, over Thanksgiving weekend I took a 200-page draft of a proposed rule home with me to read. It is full of serious math and advanced science. It brought back a memory to me.
I had taken our family on a vacation and with some time to kill, I decided to upgrade my computer by myself. I went to a small computer store and bought the needed kit.
By eight o’clock that night I had taken the thing apart, and put it back together but it wouldn’t work. I was feeling desperate to check my email. I called the computer shop. No answer. I called again and just let it ring.
Finally, there was an answer. Hello.
“I’m so glad you answered,” I said. “I’ve reassembled my computer and I’m afraid that I’ve plugged the expansion board into the wrong slot. I put it right next to…
He interrupted. “Mr., I’m the janitor here, and when I told you hello…I told you all I know.”
Suffice it to say, that in the last two weeks I’ve had a few conversations where I’ve felt like saying, “Mr., I’m the Administrator here, and when I told you hello, I told you all I know.”
Many of you have started conversations with me by asking something like, “So, what do you think of the EPA?”
I came into this office with great respect for the work of the agency and as a believer in its mission. Every day spent here has only heightened my admiration. It also has affirmed the greatest certainty I had going in -- that I would be surrounded by the best people in the world.
It’s natural for people both inside and outside EPA to wonder about the ideology, the management style and the priorities of a new administrator. So today I want to address those in a straight-forward way.
At the time President Bush nominated me for this position, I was the nation’s longest-serving governor. The years I spent working to solve complex, large-scale environmental puzzles crystallized an understanding for me that real problem-solving takes place in the productive center, not at the emotional extremes where most of the loudest voices are.
You’ve all heard those voices and seen the debate reduced to bumper stickers. Two of my favorites I saw in the same intersection. One said, “Earth First! We’ll Mine the Other Planets Later.” The other one said, “Save the Earth – Kill Yourself.” Something tells me the American people are somewhere in between.
The productive center is the place where the best ideas compete and a fair process for decision-making exists. It is a target between those bumper stickers.
But, it is a target we need to find repeatedly and accurately because the nature of the problems and challenges we face today are extraordinarily complex, and politically contentious. The new dimension is that we also have to find it faster in order to remain competitive economically in the world.
I subscribe to an environmental philosophy called Enlibra. It’s a Latin derivative meaning “to move toward balance.”
Former Governor John Kitzhaber, a Democrat from Oregon, and I coined the word after struggling to solve dozens of complex environmental issues ranging from the air quality over the Grand Canyon to salmon habitat. Two governors, different political parties, both coming to the same conclusion: balance is the key.
The eight Enlibra principles form the prism through which I view environmental issues. The principles are just common sense, really. But common sense should not be underestimated, particularly as the counter to conflict.
So if you want to know how the Administrator is going to react to a given issue, the Enlibra principles – common sense – are a good place to start.
People also have been curious about the transition from being governor to EPA Administrator and how I see EPA’s relationship with the states now that I’m on the other side of the arrangement.
First, let me say that my eleven years as governor were a remarkable experience, and I will forever be grateful to the people of Utah for that privilege. But that part of my life has concluded. Now I am the Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency -- and proud to be. The new role requires national perspective, which I embrace. My new role also requires that I retain a keen sense that national policies are implemented regionally and locally.
As to federal-state relationships, I would respond with an Enlibra principle: “National standards, neighborhood solutions.”
I believe EPA needs to be in the standards business, not the prescriptions business. Environmental standards should be straightforward, clear and enforceable. When standards morph into “our way or the highway” we lose the brilliant system of delegated powers and local innovation.
What about enforcement? I want our first goal to be compliance. Enforcement is a critical tool to maintain that goal. Without consistent and smart enforcement, an environmental standard becomes an empty vessel. But anyone who evades the law should feel the full weight of the law until compliance is met. I expect the same type of enforcement by the states.
I’ve been asked how I view the role of science in our work. I find an Enlibra principle helpful: “Science for facts; process for priorities.” We will use the best available science to guide our endeavors -- always.
I visited some of our labs in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. I saw leading-edge genomic research being used to improve our understanding of toxicity; I saw lasers creating new ways to identify dangerous substances; and I saw the assembly of a model coal-fired power plant. It is part of a joint project with the Department of Energy to build a zero emission coal-fired power plant. The labs are just remarkable, nothing like them anywhere. What a treasure for the United States and the world!
A lot of people have been interested in how I view my role in President Bush’s Cabinet. Let me answer by telling you about my own experience in the executive branch of government.
When I became governor, I expected loyalty from each of my cabinet officers and I explained my definition of loyalty to them. There are five things:
First, I expect you to run the agency using your best judgment. Ninety-nine percent of what happens in a department the governor never sees.
Second, I expect you to discern when a policy or issue has impact on other agencies or is of such consequence that it will affect more than your area of responsibility – and then to elevate those.
Third, when an issue is elevated, I expect you to be a good collaborator in finding the right solution.
Fourth, on issues where there is disagreement, I expect you to tell me exactly how you feel.
Lastly, I expect you to remember that it is the chief executive who was elected by voters and remains accountable to them.
I expect my relationship with President Bush will work much the same way. And may I say that’s the relationship I hope to have with my colleagues at the EPA.
Actions of the Environmental Protection Agency affect the lives of every person on the planet, often in multiple ways. Beyond our stated mission, our work has significant impact on economic policy, social policy, energy policy, international policy, and homeland security which is why so many issues are elevated to broader discussions.
When issues need elevation, I’ll make a commitment to you, and there is one I hope to get from you in return.
My commitment is this: once we have finished our deliberations at EPA, I will be a strong advocate for our positions within the interagency process.
As for the one thing I’d ask of you -- let me introduce it with a story.
After months of working to solve a complex and emotionally-charged problem that had divided people in our state for a long time, I met privately with county commissioners to explain the outcome and its effect on them.
This was one of those federal-state disputes that had gone unresolved for decades and, frankly, I was feeling pretty good that I had negotiated a solid deal and at long last I had a solution. As I described it to the commissioners, most were pleased, but a few of them started grousing about one point or another.
One in particular wouldn’t quit, and I said, “You remind me of my brother. Whenever I would buy cattle, no matter how good a deal I made, in his mind he could have always done better.”
There was silence for a moment, and then from the back of the room comes a woman’s voice: “We should have sent his brother.”
So, what is my request of you? Many of the policies we work through are quite complex and necessarily involve reconciliation of different points of view and policy priorities. I am asking you to join me in working as a good collaborator in finding the right solutions.
I’d like to tell you about an experience I had with President Bush. A couple of years ago, I went to his ranch in Crawford, Texas. We drove in a pick up truck around the ranch to see some of his favorite places. We stopped where he had thinned some trees a couple of weeks before. It was already showing signs of renewal. He showed me riparian areas along a stream, native grasses and places where birds made their nests.
We walked through the house he was building. He described the cistern water system designed to preserve water and explained how the house would be cooled by native winds during the heat of the summer. He said, “It saves energy.”
I’m from the West, and I know love of the land when I see it.
People have asked what it is about being Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency that appealed to me. There are many things, but an important one was the commitment I feel from the President himself to create a faster tempo of improvement using improved technology, better partnerships and markets.
Now, a brief summary of my management style; I enjoy solving problems. I am guided by selected long-term goals. I then rely on a 500-day plan to create a timetable of short term actions that move toward achievement of the long-term goal. It’s a 500-day plan with a 5,000-day horizon.
Every 200 days I re-evaluate progress and make necessary adjustments. It’s a dynamic plan. If we find a better way, we adopt it.
We will release the 500-day plan for air quality soon. In the next few weeks we will do the same for other strategic goals of the Agency.
The 500-day plan will chart the course for achieving the most productive period of air quality improvement in American history. It will answer many of the questions I’ve been asked recently.
Will we implement programs and work with the states to ensure compliance on stringent air quality standards for ozone and fine particles?
Will we act on eight-hour, ozone non-attainment?
Yes, and we will send the letters out Thursday.
Will we push for prompt passage of the Clear Skies legislation to help the States meet those standards by more effectively, efficiently and certainly cutting pollution from power plants? The answer is yes.
We need it to pass. We have much work to do with our Congressional sponsors to move Clear Skies through Congress. We are committed to seeing it done.
Enacting Clear Skies is by far the best route to better air quality in the most comprehensive manner.
Will we be able to accelerate air quality improvement and maintain economic competitiveness without it?
The answer is no.
Our goal of cutting the historic time for progress in half is ambitious; and frankly, the low hanging fruit in air quality improvement has been picked. To get the kind of improvement we’re talking about we now have to start doing that which can never be accomplished under the slow, expensive and conflict-intense processes of the past. I’m speaking of problems such as transported air pollution. The only tool available to some regions is to sue their neighboring states. We need to take the giant step toward national market-based solutions; to do that we need only look to our own experience.
That is exactly what we’re doing with cap and trade. The cap and trade strategy was key to the breakthrough against acid rain. It is central to Clear Skies.
The cap and trade approach shows us again and again that people do more and they do it faster when they have an incentive to do what’s in the public’s interest.
Will we act to place stringent controls on diesel engines?
Will we move forward with the first-ever regulations addressing mercury emissions from power plants?
More. Better. Faster. Newer. That’s the tune you will hear from me.
Now, I would like to talk about the future of EPA.
The last three decades have been a period of monumental awareness and progress in environmental protection.
In 1970, if a teenager swam in the Hudson River, a tetanus shot was a given. Vistas over western skies were obscured for days on end. Abandoned factories and industrial sites weren’t just eyesores, they were threats. And then we woke up.
Our nation responded with new environmental laws; with a commitment from government, communities and industry to take responsibility for their surroundings; and with the creation of the EPA.
We can model, analyze and provide statistics to quantify the difference between then and now – and sometimes we can’t. How do you place value on a clear panorama of starlight and the night sky?
People can now swim, fish and boat in rivers that were previously too polluted. Brownfields are now ball fields. There is a growing, thriving ethic about healing the land after years of scarring. And it is still not nearly enough.
I envision a new wave of national environmental productivity beginning in America. It is emerging not from new legislative initiatives but from people joining together in collaborative networks for environmental teamwork.
Most of these collaborations are small, made up of neighbors, communities and local governments to protect their watershed or to clean up a brownfield. Others involve geographic areas and issues that are massive in scale and scope like the Western Regional Air Partnership. No matter the size, they all need a convener of stature with the skills and resources to help them start. This is a new sociology; many of these are enabled by new technology.
The Environmental Protection Agency can step forward boldly as a convener of such collaborative networks. We can help connect the players across national, state and community boundaries and assist in getting them started, provide resources and in some cases, get out of the way.
There is a pattern that emerges from history. Some progress can be made from command and control systems, but when it reaches the point where the next increment of progress is so expensive and complex that it begins to have negative consequences, progress is slowed. When that occurs, progressive steps must become more individualized and collaborative.
Collaboration is not code for compromise. It is the pursuit of what’s possible checked only by the realities of what is workable. Collaboration does not eliminate litigation, but it can minimize it. Collaboration doesn’t take away from hard decisions, but it improves acceptance.
Some good collaboration networks fall apart and others fail. But those that break through are unassailable for having survived the process. They elevate the ideas that create faster progress, better innovation, and newer technology. They become the successes that show us the way. I am convinced that formalized collaboration is the next great leap in environmental productivity and EPA can lead the way.
One of my favorite axioms is that there are three ways to deal with change. You can fight it and die; accept it and survive; lead it and prosper. Society needs the United States Environmental Protection Agency to lead so our nation can prosper.
In closing, let me return again to the question about what I think of the EPA.
I think EPA is an agency of thousands of diverse, professional, talented people committed to the mission of protecting human health and safeguarding the environment.
I believe there is great honor in that charge, which seeks only the well being of our fellow citizens and harnesses the might of this nation to the task of improving, protecting, cleaning and restoring our surroundings.
I believe you should look inward and take pride in the fact that the best in the world are bettering the world.
Our work carries an inherent duty to leave things better for the next generation. That has always been a personal goal of mine, so we are – in the spirit of Enlibra – in balance.
We will continue to protect and safeguard. We will do it faster, better and more collaboratively than has ever been done before. We will be the builders of a 21st century network and the keepers of a 30-year ethic.
We will do our best for this great nation, and we will leave things better for the next generation.