||Keynote Address by Senator George J. Mitchell at 2004 Maine Water Conference
"It is a great honor for me to be associated with the Environmental Research Center at the University of Maine and to work with the dedicated staff and students there, especially the outstanding Director, and my friend, Steve Kahl. It is gratifying to learn of the results of the research at the Center. They confirm that the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments successfully reduced air emissions and that these reductions in emissions have translated into reduced deposition of acids.
These are significant achievements. But we wouldn't know about them if there were not also a commitment to the long-term research necessary to document the results of the clean air act.
The federal acid rain program, much of which is conducted at the University of Maine, is a model of how to ensure accountability. I applaud the commitment of the scientists and students to this long-term research. Steve tells me that there are several graduate students in attendance who are studying aspects of the long-term response to acid rain at the University. My thanks and encouragement to you and to all young environmental scientists in attendance.
A clean environment is essential to healthy human life. It is especially important here in Maine because the quality of our environment is critical to our economy. Our coast, our forests and our lakes attract millions of visitors each year. And more and more people want to move here to live, to experience a better quality of life. For them, for our families, and most importantly for future generations, we must leave a legacy of clean air, pure water and unpoisoned land.
We must also not lose sight of the fact that protecting our environment is important in Maine precisely because our environment is relatively clean and healthy. Preserving what we have is much more effective and less costly than trying to repair environmental damage. This reality underscores the visionary nature of model programs in Maine, such as the bond program for the Land for Maine's Future, that will be on the ballot in November. We need to support this type of program.
There is much to celebrate in the environmental progress of recent years. We in Maine can take pride in the fact that the greatest environmental legislator in our nation's history was our own Ed Muskie.
When Ed Muskie went to the Senate, there was no Clean Water Act, there was no Clean Air Act, there was a lot of polluted air and dirty water. Eighty-five percent of our nation's waters were polluted.
I grew up in Waterville, on the banks of the Kennebec River. I remember it as a stinking open sewer, filled with pollution, covered with scum. Today, while there are still issues with the Kennebec, it is vastly improved. Just in the past few years it has been free-flowing all the way upstream to Waterville, after removal of the Edwards dam. I understand that the recovery of fisheries and other species has been dramatic.
With skill and dedication, with perseverance, with infinite patience, Ed Muskie worked for years to create an environmental awareness in America and to enact legislation to deal with what was clearly a national problem. The results were the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which today, three decades later, remain our nation's landmark environmental laws. As one result, 85 percent of our nation's waters are now clean - you can fish, boat and swim in our major rivers.
I was honored to carry on Ed Muskie's tradition in the Senate. Among the actions during my tenure I'm most proud of were the extension and improvements of the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts; the first national legislation to prevent and clean up oil spills; the Wildlife Conservation Act; the Toxic Waste Clean Up Program; and the preservation of the Endangered Species Act.
This is undeniably a cleaner and more environmentally conscious country than it was a quarter century ago. But no one should think that the job is done; we cannot rest on our laurels. To the contrary, there are some even more severe challenges.
The legislation that Steve (Kahl) just discussed, the Clean Air Act of 1990, which I sponsored, provided the nation's first ever effort to deal with acid rain. It took a long time but in 1990 Congress finally recognized the problem.
To be fair, credit should also go to then President Bush. The Reagan Administration had opposed the Clean Air Act. After his election President Bush reversed that policy and announced his support for the legislation. That changed the discussion from whether a bill should pass to what should be in the bill. While we had some differences on that question we were able to work out a strong bill that has been good for the country. But none of it would have happened, at least not then, without President Bush's early support. That makes the current President Bush's lack of support for the Clean Air Act so ironic and tragic. The Clean Air Act led to huge reductions in automobile emissions. But the number of cars and trucks, and the total number of miles driven are rising rapidly.
We need more research and more intensive development on cleaner cars. More fuel efficient cars and trucks will provide a cleaner atmosphere, and substantially reduce our national dependence on imported oil. We must have a meaningful national effort of conservation; we are lagging in this commitment.
We also need a national Administration that will enforce and not undermine the environmental laws. Unfortunately, the current Administration's actions on the Clean Air Act have been unhelpful. It has proposed changes in the New Source Review provisions of the law which will undermine effective enforcement. And on too many occasions it has enforced the law only under court orders in lawsuits brought by private organizations or by states. It is a sad day for this country when the Environmental Protection Agency has to be forced by the federal courts to enforce the nation's environmental laws.
Rising populations around the world, and their demands for work and wealth, will place great stress on the Earth's ecology and atmosphere. Global climate change is a threat to the health and security of future generations. However, the interesting challenge in planning for climate change is that the effects will not be similar everywhere. It is even possible that some regions, perhaps even Maine, will cool rather than warm. Once again data will be required, and we as a society must make the commitment to research to understand our world and protect it for our children and grandchildren. Maine should be proud that the Governor and Legislature combined to pass landmark legislation to control greenhouse gas emissions last year.
On a broader scale, the United States is the world's dominant economy and military power. We should take the lead in organizing worldwide support for responsible policies to protect our planet for the benefit of generations to come. This includes the environment, energy supplies and conservation, human rights and respect for sovereignty.
We cannot wantonly deplete finite resources; we must develop cost-effective, benign, alternative renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydro, while not despoiling pristine environments with their development.
Water is a global concern of utmost urgency. Among the basic needs of humans, there are replacements for energy sources, replacements for foods and food sources, for new building materials for shelter. There is no replacement for water!
The United Nations has warned that water will be the oil of this century, leading to regional conflicts and perhaps widespread war if we don't properly husband this resource.
In Maine, we know that we are vulnerable to water shortages after the drought of 2001. And even in Maine, we newly find ourselves with water conflicts, for example over the simultaneous demands of irrigation, drinking water, and protection of endangered Atlantic Salmon. And sometimes the water just isn't where you need it, even when you appear to have enough.
In the past several decades, our nation has made great strides in managing water resources. As with the Kennebec and Penobscot, our rivers are cleaner. Most wastewater is treated before disposal into receiving waters. Conservation efforts have allowed a growing population and economy to thrive while using less water. We have controls on salinity and erosion and are sensitive to potential contamination with pesticides or other toxic chemicals.
Ironically, as the visible condition of our waters has improved during the past three decades, we have become increasingly aware of invisible impacts from mercury, dioxin, arsenic, and acid rain. Moreover, these problems are often difficult to understand, and expensive to fix. There has at times been a lack of will in our society to fix the 'invisible' problems, in part because we can't see them.
I'd like to close by saying a few words directly to the undergraduate students in the audience.
I ask you never to forget your good fortune to be citizens in this, the most free, the most open, the most just society in all of human history. You will of necessity spend most of your life working to earn incomes to support yourselves and your families.
But I ask you to: Leave some time for an effort to do something with your life that is larger than your self interest, something from which you derive no individual benefit, but from which you get the satisfaction of having done something to help others, to improve the society in which you live - and to repay this country for the many benefits that you've received.
There is much acrimony in this country, and throughout the world today. Somehow, we must recommit to basic tenets of stewardship, cooperation, harmony, service for fellow humans, and yes, some sacrifice for the good of our common future. That's our challenge. We must make it our destiny."
Senator George J. Mitchell
The Maine Water Conference
Augusta Civic Center
April 21, 2004